The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, has disclosed that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) conducts its counterinsurgency operations with extreme caution and restraint to minimize collateral damage whilst also undertaking humanitarian programmers to win the hearts and minds of the civil populace. The CAS stated this today, 18 December 2019, as the Guest Lecturer, at a public lecture delivered at the University of Jos (UNIJOS), Naraguta Campus, Jos. In his lecture, titled “The Role of the NAF in Contemporary Security Challenges”, the CAS noted that the contemporary Nigerian air operating environment is intrinsically asymmetric and encompasses a wide range of variables. According to him, it is based on the implicit premise that asymmetric warfare deals with unknowns and with surprises in terms of ends, ways and means. “The more dissimilar the adversary is, the more difficult it is to understand and predict his actions”, he said.
Speaking further, Air Marshal Abubakar, stated that the NAF, as the custodian of combat air operations in Nigeria, is operating in a predominantly asymmetric environment. This, he said, is evident in the nature of conflicts and security threats that the Service, and indeed the Armed Forces, are currently battling in the country. The threats, the CAS noted, range from the Boko Haram insurgency/terrorism in the Northeast to the criminal activities of pipeline vandals, crude oil thieves, sea robbers and militants in the South as well as increasing threats from kidnappers, cattle rustlers and militarized herdsmen, who are causing widespread insecurity across the country. “These security threats all have a commonality of features, which bear the hallmark of asymmetric warfare, as they are often conducted in settlements or built up areas with poorly defined or non-existent combat zones. Furthermore, urban environments provide very good concealment and opportunities for ambushes and booby traps”, he said.
While citing instances of complex asymmetric environment, the CAS noted that the insurgency in the Northeast involves operations inside Maiduguri as well as other towns and villages which makes progress really slow and painstaking. Such operating environments, according to him place significant stress on participating troops, including aircrew. “This is particularly true of helicopter crew, who operate at low speeds and altitudes, sometimes into highly vulnerable locations”. The absence of a dress code for insurgents, the CAS said, is yet another feature, which characterizes the asymmetry in Nigerian air operations environment. The implication, according to him, is that military personnel could come under attack from seemingly innocent crowds, whom the personnel may be trying to protect.
Air Marshal Abubakar noted that the foregoing scenario makes the employment of strategies to win the hearts and minds of the civil populace in the affected areas an imperative for successful operations. In this regard, he noted that the NAF had, over the past 4 years, intensified the execution of Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) Projects whilst scaling up its Disaster Response/Relief capability in aid to civil authorities in times of crises. The humanitarian programmes, he said, include the conduct of medical outreaches, provision of water supply and school feeding as well as donation of food and other items especially to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). He disclosed that the NAF had conducted 66 medical outreaches with over 370,000 patients seen including 2,065 general and eye surgeries carried out from July 2015 till date. He said the Service had also established and maintained Level 2 Hospitals at IDP Camps at Dalori and Bama in Borno State. He noted that these measures bolstered the confidence of the people in the military, while countering the BHT’s recruitment strategy and enhancing local intelligence gathering. As for disaster relief, the CAS reported that the NAF took active part in the relief efforts of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), in delivering relief materials to victims of flooding in various parts of the country in 2017 mainly in Benue State as well as to Bayelsa and Rivers States in October 2018. Similarly, he noted that the NAF has frequently conducted other international humanitarian missions, including the airlift of relief materials to Mozambique and Zimbabwe in September 2019.
Furthermore, the CAS explained, another significant requirement for effectiveness in contemporary operations is Research and Development (R&D). This, he said, was because any nation at war that was wholly dependent on other nations and private vendors for the entirety of its military needs would continue to face considerable set-backs. In this regard therefore, Air Marshal Abubakar noted that the NAF had undertaken various initiatives, singly and in conjunction with credible partners, which have yielded positive outcomes. He highlighted some of these to include higher-quality, locally-produced versions of the hydraulic accumulator diaphragms for the Mi-35 helicopter and L-39 aircraft fleets; local production of Missile Heat Shields as well as the mass production of brake pads and rivets for the Alpha Jet aircraft, in collaboration with Innoson Group of Companies. Others, he said, include the local production of C-130H auxiliary power unit test stand, weaponisation of NAF and Nigerian Police Force Bell 412 helicopters, production of 30.1mm live rockets and production of hilux mounted rocket launchers, as well as geisha 23mm guns of the decommissioned MiG-21 aircraft, amongst others.
While highlighting some challenges facing the Service, the CAS stated that the NAF, like other Services, is participating actively in all the Internal Security operations in the Country which include Operations LAFIYA DOLE, HADARIN DAJI, DELTA SAFE, SAFE HAVEN, AWATSE and WHIRL STROKE. He said running an air force is a very expensive venture, especially where the underlying local technological base is inadequate. While noting that the current level of funding for the NAF is still far below the requirement to sustain a balanced force capable of discharging its roles effectively, Air Marshal Abubakar appreciated the Federal Government under the leadership of the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buahri, for striving to improve NAF budgetary allocations over the past few years. The CAS also mentioned weather as well as the vastness of the area of operations as part of the challenges faced by the NAF.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the occasion and former Vice Chancellor (VC) UNIJOS, Professor Nenfort Gomwalk, commended the CAS for the remarkable achievements and successes recorded in the fight against terrorism in the Northeast as well as other internal security threats. He noted that the University was extremely proud of the achievements recorded by the NAF, under Air Marshal Abubakar’s leadership, in the areas of capacity building, infrastructural development, acquisition and reactivation of platforms and particularly in R&D.
The CAS had earlier paid a courtesy call on the VC UNIJOS, Professor Seddi Sebastian Maimako, in his Office, where he highlighted how the NAF has leveraged the knowledge and experience inherent in Nigerian Universities to solve some of its aircraft engineering and maintenance problems. This, the CAS, said was achieved through Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with 15 Nigerian Universities and Research Institutes. He urged the VC to join others in partnering with the NAF in the area of R&D. In his response, the UNIJOS VC, while expressing his delight to welcome the CAS to his Office, noted that given the special connection Air Marshal Abubakar has with UNIJOS, the University would definitely key into the NAF’s R&D drive while also exploring avenues to further strengthen the relationship between the NAF and the University.
Other dignitaries at the event were the former CAS, Air Marshal Jonah Wuyep (retired), Principal Officers in UNIJOS, the Air Officer Commanding Ground Training Command as well other senior NAF officers.