The Nigerian Air Force (NAF), has been in the news recently for various inspiring reasons.
One appreciates the greatest responsibility of the NAF to the over 200 million Nigerians.
When it is not supporting the indigent all over the nation with palliatives to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, it is training its personnel to be better airmen and women, acquiring one combat helicopter or the other, commissioning infrastructural projects, smoking out bandits or engaging the Boko Haram insurgents in North East.
Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar, the new helmsman, upon assumption of office, promised to “…reposition the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives.”
He pointed out a couple of things he would do, vis; transforming the NAF to a professional force, providing the right structure, right human capacity, right equipment holding and providing appropriate welfare packages to ensure personnel are properly motivated for effective service delivery.
A few years down the line, the NAF has become a formidable force.
In 2017, NAF trained 450 personnel to be a part of its Special Forces.
They passed out after 10 weeks of intense training. In 2019, 175 carefully-selected personnel were drafted in for the grueling regimental training and earlier in 2020, 117 personnel were drafted into a 10-week intensive training.
Since Air Marshal Sadique assumed office, he has overseen the training of over 1,300 SF personnel to safeguard the NAF’s assets as well as those of the nation and to counter the incursion by insurgents.
Also, his leadership has successfully winged over 114 pilots, among which are five females.
In October 2019, the Force made history when it decorated its first female fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sani and its first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, in Abuja.
Flying Officer Chinelo Nwokoye was also unveiled recently and has since joined others in the defence of her fatherland.
This inclusion and support for women in the Force will help them develop a balanced mix of critical thinking, leadership skills and the right attitude.
The administration of Air Marshal Sadique has also gone into partnership with the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), to avail the Force the competencies in ensuring that construction projects are executed in line with international best practices.
A few days back, the NAF organised the ‘capping’ and ‘strapping’ of the pioneer set of student nurses of the College of Nursing at the NAF School of Medical and Aviation Medicine (NAFSMSAM) Kaduna, to enhance the capacity of NAF’s Medical Services personnel.
The embarrassing incidence of cattle-rustling and banditry in the Northwest saw the need for the Force to intervene.
It has killed more than 350 armed bandits, cattle rustlers and other criminal elements in Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara and Sokoto states through ‘Operation Hadarin Daji’.
In the Northeast, the NAF has given insurgents a run for their money through ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’.
The NAF has stocked up with over 20 aircraft since the onslaught against insurgents and crime.
With renewed motivation and successes, Air Marshal Sadique has been to Gusau, Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna, building morale within the rank and file and helping the troops savour the victories which have come at no small cost.
While the Force has recorded successes, the welfare of its rank and file has not suffered at any point since the inception of its current administration.
In 2018, 30 units of two-bedroom flats were commissioned at Sam Ethnan Air Force Base, Ikeja, while six blocks of three bedroom flats each was built for married officers and their families in NAF barracks at Shasha.
Another block of 30 x 1 well-furnished Airmen’s Studio Accommodation was also commissioned at NAF Base Shasha.
Also unveiled was the refurbished tailoring factory at LEGICO Barracks, a multipurpose hall at the NAF Secondary School as well as a Golf Course in Shasha.
Apartments were also erected at the barracks to serve as transit accommodation for Airmen and Airwomen.
Furthermore in 2020, two newly-constructed blocks of 6 x 3 bedroom flats for married officers were commissioned at the Sam Ethnan Air Force Base Ikeja, Lagos; and another batch of four remodeled/renovated blocks of 36xsingle-bedroom flats for non-Commissioned Officers at Sam Ethnan Air Force Base (SEAFB) Ikeja in 2020.
The Force has also entered into collaborations with some Nigerian universities and research institutions.
In 2019, it signed a MoU with 14 universities and five research institutes on capacity building and other mutual collaborations. In 2017, the Turkish Armed Forces expressed the desire for collaboration with the Nigeria Air Force to aid aircraft acquisition, training, surveillance and radar technology.
The Government of Argentina also made the same proposition.
These partnerships have impacted positively on aircraft serviceability in the NAF and its ability to project air power not only to the resolution of Nigeria’s internal security challenges but also within the West African Sub-region.
After the Nigerian Air Force Research and Development Policy formulated in 2017 and the Nigerian Air Force Research and Development Centre of 2015, all NAF personnel who had undergone various Post-graduate programmes in Aerospace Vehicle Design at different overseas universities, as well as those talented in the area of Aerospace Research and Development, were redeployed to the NAF Research and Development Centre in Kaduna. This move has resulted in breakthroughs, further enhancing the efficiency of the Force.
One significant breakthrough is the development of an operationalised Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) known as ‘Tsaigumi’ in 2018 at the NAF Base Kaduna.
The modern trend in military aviation is the employment of UAVs and the NAF has refused to be left behind.
Other products of NAF R&D efforts in partnership with various tertiary institutions and other local organisations include the production of an Mi-35 helicopter hydraulic accumulator diaphragm which has since been patented by the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP). This is to address the difficulties in procuring the item from overseas.
Other notable breakthroughs of the NAF’s R&D efforts include the design and construction of Mi-35P 30mm cannon loader, production of heat shield protective cones for the Alpha jet aircraft, production of anti-skid test bench for Alpha jet aircraft, production of brake pads and rivets for Alpha jet aircraft, repair of Augusta 109 helicopter multi-function display (MPD), replacement of electrolyte in battery of F-7Nl fighter aircraft as well as the combat configuration/weaponization of the Alpha jet – E-135 and L-ZA aircraft.
Accordingly, the NAF, under its current leadership has defied all odds and the current economic downturns being experienced in the country.
Nigeria’s national symbol is the eagle and the strength of the eagle is in its sight and powerful wings.
The NAF has proven to be a formidable part of the nation’s strength, with its sights and huge swaths of vision coming in handy in combating criminalities within the nation and beyond its boundaries.
Pembi, a public affairs commentator, writes from Abuja.