NAF at 56: The reinvention of one of Africa’s finest airforces




 


On May 5, 2020, the Nigeria Airforce in Abuja, winged a female helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Chinelo Nwokoye. This is just 8 months after NAF winged its first female fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sani, and its first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile. With the inscription ‘land soft party hard’ on the motif on her shoulder, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, took the C-in-C, President Muhammadu Buhari, on a tour of the new combat Helicopters, acquired by the Nigerian Airforce. This was at a ceremony that took place at the Eagle Square, in February. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Abubakar Alsadique, had in the last one year, procured and inducted 22 brand new aircraft (fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships), with 17 additional ones being expected, including 12 brand new Super Tucano Jets. 17 Nigerian pilots have also been trained in the use of J-17 Thunder Jets. The combat helicopters inducted include 3 brand new birds, namely, NAF 381, 579, and 578.In the new fighter fleet of the Nigerian Airforce are: 2 Agusta 109E power helicopters and Mi-171e combat helicopter. There is also the meritorious Mi-35 attack helicopter which was newly acquired and has also been inducted. The Nigerian Airforce has been able to produce and launch several unmanned aerial-craft (drones), which have been used for intelligence gathering, and for aerial bombardment of targets, in the NAF’s war against terrorism and banditry. Such include the first drone it launched which it tagged ‘Tsegumi’, and a new hedracopter about to be commissioned, which has the ability to drop missiles on targets within a range of 250km. 

The Nigerian Airforce has also built the Nigerian Airforce Special Forces Regiment, modelled after Britain’s RAF Regiment with the core mission of protecting Airbases and ground infrastructure. These specially trained men consist of special ops, paratroopers, amphibious troops, who are much more trained than your average airman. The new Nigerian Airforce, under the able leadership of Air Marshal Abubakar Al-Sadique, is ranked among the top four aerial fighting forces in Africa. Eight years ago, NAF could not be said to be a major player in the war against terrorism. NAF of today is the most lethal weapon of the Nigerian Armed Forces that has waged a protracted war against banditry and terrorism. The recent success recorded in the North-west, in the fight against banditry, could be credited to the use of a fighter helicopter that mounted superior aerial challenge. This led to the destruction of the bandits’ hideouts and their fighters, numbering over 200, during operation PUFF ADDER.

Zamfara state was a haven for banditry operations, as they wrecked villages and towns, burning houses, farmlands, and cattle. The Nigerian Airforce launched an operation tagged “Tsaftan Daji”, with the sole purpose of flushing out the bandits that had continuously troubled the people of Zamfara state. This was announced in April 2019, by the Air Officer Commanding Special Operations, AVM Napoleon Bali. It was one masterstroke that saw to an almost annihilation of banditry as it were, back then in Zamfara state. An appreciable degree of normalcy and peace was restored in Zamfara. In April 2020, NAF also deployed its newly reactivated Mi-35P attack helicopters to support operation Safe Haven, to restore peace in Nasarawa and Plateau states that had been plagued by communal clashes. Fresh clashes were being witnessed in the two states, after the gradual withdrawal of troops from the two states, where communal violence had led to the death of several police officers in Nasarawa state. 
The latest onslaught on the terrorists in North-east Nigeria has been a huge success, with the launch of over 1, 700 combat hours by the Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation Lafiya Dole (OPLD). The ATF hit 33 targets of the Boko Haram camps. This was done via 889 Air Interdictions (AI), Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Battle Damage Assessment (BDA), Close Air Support as well as Tactical Airlift Missions. The ATF has been providing the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) with support, and has launched several subsidiary independent operations including operation RATTLESNAKE 2 & 3, and operation DECISIVE EDGE. This was made known by Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information. At 56, the Nigerian Airforce is the most potent, equipped, and lethal weapon, in Nigeria’s fight against terrorism and banditry. A clear testimony of this is the success in the numerous aerial battles launched by NAF in the last one year. Troops are better trained and better equipped, with specialised trainings in Pakistan, which is the new partner to Nigeria with regards to the Airforce, as well as in the Czech Republic. 
Covid-19 had taken up a lot of media space, just as it had taken up our lifestyles and our livelihood. As such, slander and defamation had taken up a back seat in our media space. All of a sudden, coronavirus is waning, and the media practice of old are coming back to the fore. I came across a poorly scripted, un-corroborated and sad outing of slander against the amiable Air Chief who had done so well for our Airforce, that we have never had it so good. Poorly scripted, I insist, because not even the director of public relations of NAF was contacted for a response, as the publication lamely put it that the Air Chief’s phone was not reachable, and so they went to press with their story. The truth is the Nigerian Airforce is at its best now and it is on its way to becoming the best in the whole of Africa, if the current momentum of re-invention and modernisation is sustained. Hopes are high that our ground troops, ably supported by our great air-fighters, will soon declare victory over a recalcitrant terrorist group that has over-stayed its welcome. Now is such a bad time to be distracted from a great war-end against terror that is finally weeping on its knees, waiting to be executed. The Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Airforce has never been this equipped, and thus, has recently shown the most commitment and determination, especially in the last 4 months; with sustained  attacks on the enemy. Now is the time they need our fervent prayers, so that they may succeed. Happy Birthday to the men and women of the Nigerian Airforce at 56! We are indeed proud of you. 
Tahir is Talban Bauchi

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