COVID-19: NAF pitches in to save day across the nation

It is easy to consider the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in terms of war and combat only. In the last couple of months, the force has shown that it can also win the war against poverty and inhumanity by showing its humane wing and helping to lift many out of the dust and on their feet, especially in these trying times when many, faced by the coronavirus, have lost forms of livelihood and cannot feed themselves when they should, how they should.

As the nation struggled under the weight of growing COVID-19 cases and many wondered how the nation would cope when faced by the wrath of the quick-spreading virus (especially after the ‘ugly’ ventilator saga with Elon Musk on Twitter) the NAF quickly moved and, within three weeks, unveiled 2 emergency ventilators produced by a team of researchers from the Air Force Research and Development Centre (AFRDC) and Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Kaduna, in partnership with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. The emergency ventilators, tagged ‘NAF E-Vents’, were unveiled on 27 May 2020, by Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, in Kaduna.

Before it was unveiled, the prototype ventilators had been successfully tested on animal (both canine and porcine) subjects, to demonstrate the capacity of the ventilators to support recovery of patients with respiratory diseases, including acute lung Injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The tests were also necessary to validate the effectiveness of the ‘Assist Ventilation Mode’, where the ventilator detects a breath from a patient being treated and synchronises the equipment with the patient’s breathing.

Speaking at the presentation, AM Saddique, who was represented by Remigius Ekeh, noted that the NAF had engaged in strategic partnerships with some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), so as to reduce dependence on other nations. “Our modest efforts have yielded results and positively impacted our operations,” the CAS added – but not without pointing out that private sector investment would be required for mass production of the ventilators.

The Force’s director of Research & Development, AVM Paul Jemitola, confessed that the huge strides made by the force stemmed from its efficient, high quality training of personnel. “By investing in high quality training of personnel, innovative approaches to issues and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking, a lot of solutions to operational challenges in the NAF have been locally developed through R&D thereby saving huge resources,” he said.

On April 10, 2020, NAF moved in to air-lift medical equipment and supplies donated by the Turkish Government to Nigeria from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja. The donated medical items – several boxes of equipment, medications and other supplies, weighing about 4,000kg – were airlifted by a NAF C-130 Hercules aircraft (NAF 917) and handed over by the NAF Aircrew to a representative of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for delivery to the central storage facility in Abuja.

NAF, in furtherance of its constitutional role of providing military aid to civil authority (MACA), had earlier detailed an aircraft to airlift a team of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) health officials from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, where they had travelled to undergo a World Health Organization training programme on the management of COVID-19, but became stranded due to closure of air and land borders by the Government of Congo Brazzaville.

Furthermore, the NAF airlifted some healthcare professionals from the Irua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State to Abuja and continues to avail its aircraft for the airlifting of relief materials, as well as officials of the federal and state ministries of health and NCDC to enable them sustain their vital functions. It may also be recalled that the NAF had, on 24 March 2020, airlifted medical materials consisting of 107 boxes of medical supplies and equipment donated by the Jack Ma Foundation. Moreover, the NAF, through its Liquid Oxygen Plant at the 103 Strike Group, Yola, is also producing oxygen for distribution to isolation centres and designated hospitals across the country in support of the national response to the COVID-19 emergency.

As regards the safety of its personnel and their families, the NAF has taken elaborate steps to deal with the COVID-19 threat. Since the first confirmed case in Nigeria in February 2020, the Medical Branch of the Service has undertaken a comprehensive sensitisation campaign across all NAF units while emplacing necessary measures to prevent outbreak amongst personnel and their dependants.

Awareness lectures on precautionary measures, as well as the distribution of over 30,000 information, education and communication (IEC) materials on the disease to NAF units. In addition, some NAF medical doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers have been mobilised as part of the 80 selected Armed Forces of Nigeria medical personnel deployed to support the Federal Government’s effort to deal with COVID-19 in Nigeria.

In addition to the sensitization and training, NAF has emplaced series of preventive measures to ensure that personnel are adequately protected whilst performing their constitutional role of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation. These measures include the disinfection of facilities as well as the production and distribution of large quantities of hand sanitizers by NAF medical units to personnel and their dependants, especially NAF troops on the frontlines. The Service has also installed hand washing facilities in all NAF units including Headquarters NAF Abuja, while all visitors and passengers boarding NAF aircraft are properly screened and the aircraft disinfected after every flight. Moreover, in order to ensure that NAF medical and emergency personnel get adequate protection against COVID-19, the NAF Investment Limited (NAFIL) Tailoring Workshop contacted relevant Government Agencies for the licensing of locally produced personal protective equipment (PPE) for use in NAF Hospitals. Besides, the Air Force Research and Development Centre (AFRDC) has been tasked to develop a ventilator locally to be used after certification by relevant Government Agencies.

AM Saddique assured time and again that NAF, with sister services and other security agencies, would continue to mobilise its human and material resources and make available its assets to ensure that COVID-19 is defeated. He therefore enjoined all NAF personnel to maintain prescribed personal hygiene and social distancing precautionary measures, whilst eschewing fake news and complying with all directives issued by Defence Headquaerters, including staying at home, where applicable. He noted that by banding together and complying with these precautions, the Nation would collectively overcome the challenge posed by COVID-19.

The force has identified with some of the country’s most indigent groups – widows, people living with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, the blind etc – and, on the 56th anniversary of the force’s existence, between April 23 and 25, 2020, the Tactical, Mobility, Special Operations, Air Training, Ground Training and Logistics commands embarked on distribution of food items and other essentials to indigent members of their host communities. There were bags of beans, instant noodles, tubers of yams, rice, vegetable oil, semovita, bags of Garri, condiments, hand sanitisers, face masks, amongst others.

In Lagos, the Headquarters of the Logistics Command (LC), the distribution of palliatives took place at Ewu, Shogunle, Mafoluku and Shasha communities in Oshodi/Isolo and Alimosho local government areas (LGAs), where 700 families were catered for, including . Speaking during the handing over of the food items to the Obas of Ewu and Shasha, respectively, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) LC, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Lawal Alao, stated that the palliatives were to be given to the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, the disabled and aged.

The obas of Ewu and Shisha, His Royal Majesty Adeshina Kuti and His Royal Majesty Babatunde Akanni, respectively, could not contain their joy.  For them, seeing their people unable to feed daily was an eyesore which got worse with the coming of the voronavirus. They thanked the forced and assured that the donation would go a long way in alleviating the hunger and hardship of their people.

Host communities of Ground Training Command (GTC) with the Headquarters in Enugu were not left out in the distribution of palliatives to 198 indigent families in Gabor, Emene, Ugbowa, Akpakpa Nike and Agbani in Nkanu East LGA of Enugu State.

The AOC, AVM Idi Amin, stated that the distribution of the palliatives was aimed at complementing the efforts of the Federal Government in alleviating the suffering as a result of the lockdown and urged beneficiaries to “always adhere to the stipulated guidelines such as regular washing of hands with soap, use of hand sanitisers and observe social distancing protocols”.

In Yenegoa, the headquarters of Mobility Command (MC), palliatives were distributed to 120 poor and vulnerable households of the PDP and Opolo Communities, including widows and other less privileged, many of whom danced for joy at the NAF’s gesture. Like in a number of places that week, it was part of activities to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the NAF’s existence.

In Bauchi, where 200 families in Gwallaga and Durum Communities in Bauchi LGA were beneficiaries, the AOC, Special Operations Command (SOC), AVM Charles Ohwo, stated that the distribution of the palliatives was part of the NAF’s corporate social responsibility to its host communities. He noted that, aside from dropping of bombs and firing of bullets in the fight against insurgency and other forms of criminality in the country, the service has always taken action to execute programmes aimed at winning the hearts and minds of host communities.

In Benue, 240 families from Abinsi, Fiidi, Ogondu and Ter Communities benefited from the palliatives. Here, AOC, AVM Olusegun Philip, noted that the CAS, urged everyone to stay at home, keep safe and abide by the established guidelines to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. The Ter Makurdi, Chief JD Sule-Abenga, like the other traditional leaders before him, said it was the first time palliatives were being brought to the community.

In Kaduna, 35o in Barakallahu, Kauya and Kirama communities in Rigachikun District of Igabi LGA of Kaduna State families shared the joy. AOC Air Training Command, AVM Musa Mukhtar, was on hand to distribute palliatives to 350 families in. Speaking during the event, the AOC noted that the palliatives were being distributed to the poor and vulnerable groups in the command’s host communities, pursuant to the directives of the CAS and assured them that the force would continue to support community development-oriented programmes of the state government.

The Hakeemi of Rigachikun, Abdulrasheed Sani, was over the moon over the coordinated attempt to reduce hunger and also mitigate the hardship of the people of his community.

While the force was busy with its coordinated, near-nationwide intervention toreduce hunger and starvation during the lock-down borne by the Coronavirus, the NAF Officers’ Wives Association (NAFOWA) was busy with its activities to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the force, with donation of food items and other palliatives to widows, single mothers and other indigent households in Enugu, Yenagoa, Bauchi, Lagos, Makurdi and Kaduna. The palliatives were distributed by chairpersons of the various NAFOWA Command Chapters between April 23 and 25, 2020.

Native communities of the Federal Capital Territory – Bassa, Sauka and Wulumo in Abuja Municipal Area Council and Ushafa, Nuwalege and Zamani in Bwari Area Council – were not left out. Over 550 families were given a reason to smile, as bags of beans, rice, semovita, instant noodles and condiments were given to different families for the up-keep.

Clearly, the distribution, done more from humane objectives than a need for show, had one message: eat, live healthy, observe a good personal hygiene regimen, keep your children and yourself safe. The force has been known for its service to humanity and, while this outpour of human kindness is laudable, encouraging and heart-warming, it leaves no one in doubt that the force is truly willing, able and ready.

David-Stephen writes from Abuja

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