Lieutenant Colonel Shittu Alao was to be appointed the Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Airforce during the Civil War 1967-1970.
He was one of the very first fighter pilots to be trained by the Nigerian Government. At the time, there was no Airforce to speak of, it was just a department in the land army.
Before his time, was the equally trail blazing Brigadier George Kurubo. But Kurubo was from the Eastern Region which had declared secession as the State of Biafra and this meant at the time, he could not possibly be made head of the new Air force.
Shittu was a Yoruba man, although he was born and lived most of his life in Jos, Northern Nigeria. The intensity of politics in the armed Forces at the time was ferocious. Nigeria did not really have a respected Airforce to speak of at the time. It absolutely had no capacity to fight an air war against the Biafrans or anybody else. But the competition for power and control in the armed forces was demonic.
Northern Officers were determined not to hand over the headship of a branch of the armed forces to a quixotic Yoruba man, even if by birth and upbringing Shittu Alao was a Northerner. There were many layers of conspiracy against Col. Alao becoming Chief of Air Staff.
Shittu Alao knew all these but didn’t quite internalize the demonic nature of the fight unfolding before him and didn’t think his “colleagues” would hurt him or do anything that would negatively impact on the war effort. He was wrong.
Shittu Alao was on a solo bombing raid to Biafra when a bomb planted in his cabin went off and exploded. He crashed at Uzebba, now in Edo State on 15th of October 1969. The accident report was never made public to this day but two months later, a Northerner, Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Ikwue was appointed Chief of Air Staff.
All through the Civil War, all of Nigeria’s bombing raids in Biafra were carried out by hired Egyptian pilots on MIG19. This was the major reason for the indiscriminate bombing of Biafran Civilian targets, hospitals, schools, markets etc and the reason also for the high casualty rates. The fighter pilots were all Egyptians who could not be controlled by General Yakubu Gowon or other Nigerian officers, particularly after the death of Col. Shittu Alao.
Tolulope Arotile, before her numbing death from a car on reverse gear, was the first female Helicopter combat pilot to be qualified by the Nigerian Airforce. She endured the pains and challenges of training in Nigeria and other countries of the world, including in South Africa.
It is reported that she had taken part in many sorties by the Nigeria Airforce in the battles against Boko Haram in the North East of Nigeria and proved herself in outstanding fashion. Tolu was Yoruba born in Kaduna State. She was a trailblazer characterized as calm and steady in flight and in operations. Now she is dead and lost to the Airforce and to Nigeria and her family.
What started as a petty conspiracy to take out the Yoruba rival Shittu Alao has perhaps now blossomed into an enduring practice in the armed forces to take out trailblazers and star performers. What a self destructing institution!
The Armed Forces of Nigeria has maintained a tradition since July 1966, of quota system for promotion, postings and advancement of its officers and men. For many decades after the Civil War, no Igbo officer could be promoted beyond nominated ranks.
Officers from Northern regions of the country were promoted without the qualifying credentials. Major General Muhammadu Buhari and so many others like him did not pass any army examinations and rose to the rank of General without a pass in the office staff schools or meeting the performance levels required to earn promotion in the officer cadre.
This has resulted, through the years, in the diminished quality of Nigerian fighting forces and the mess we are presently witnessing in engagements with a rag tag Boko Haram. It has also helped to diminish the fighting quality and capacity of the armed forces, particularly its command ranks.
Now captured Boko Haram fighters are now trained and incorporated into the same armed forces they once fought against and perhaps killed so many. You need another name for betrayal and self destructiveness at high levels.
It will be numbing to make a count of young men and women dying from the many battlefields across Nigeria in undeclared wars and from the lack of quality commands, fighting skills and cohesion that now characterize the fighting forces of Nigeria since 2015.
The civil population keeps hearing of Commanders at the front being shot at the back by their own soldiers. Images of dead fighting men fill the social media, killed in bizarre circumstances at the various fronts in undeclared wars. The old are burying the young in Nigeria.
This is why Nigerians do not trust the explanations given by the Airforce concerning the death of Miss Tolulope Arotile. People do not just believe that a car moving slowly in reverse gear knocked down Tolu and killed her outright.
Too many good and young soldiers have died in crazy circumstances and the armed forces have spent energy and so many resources to explain away their deaths to an unbelieving population. Too many diabolic things are happening in the armed forces and too many officers and men are expressing disillusionment and loss of interest for their choice of careers in the armed forces. The Nigerian armed forces are bleeding to death. Death and dying are the only reports we are getting from our fighting men and women.
The officer Corp has maintained a conspiratorial silence on these deaths and the unrelenting decimation going on in the armed forces. The quality of command has become so shameful that the armed forces find it necessary to chase News Agencies and reporters out of the frontlines in order to hide the shame.
There is now no international news agency reporting the Boko Haram war. REUTERS, UPI, AFP, INTER-TASS, BBC and even NAN, all have been chased out of the Northeast. And this is the twenty first century, the age of information.
But then the world knows the shame going on in the Northeast in the name of warfare. The disorderliness, the inflated bills, lack of fighting capacity and cowardice of the Nigerian armed forces is being exposed to the world every day. The war is obviously being monitored by the agencies of the world and they are better informed than even the Nigerian Government itself. You can’t hide this war for much longer.
Nigeria is eating its young and the clash of cymbals is getting eerily quiet in the Northeastern Boko Haram front.