Tears flowed freely and emotions ran riot yesterday at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja during the burial of the five crew members of the crashed Nigerian Air Force attack helicopter, Mi-35M deployed to combat Boko Haram insurgents in the North East. The cynosure of all eyes was the widow of Flight Lieutenant Perowei Jacob, who died in the January 2 crash, Diepreye Jacob. She had only last month been wedded in holy matrimony to the deceased. Amid tears, she had revealed that she first learnt of her husband’s death through the WhatsApp status update of her husband’s colleague, who was unaware that she had his number.
She said it was after seeing the disastrous news on the WhatsApp status that the commander visited her to inform her of the crash.The couple got married on December 8, 2018 and the husband died three weeks later in the January 2 crash. Diepreye had said: “My husband left for the trip five days after we got married and since he left, I have been alone. We spoke before he took off on the trip. When I tried his number at night, it was not going through and I switched off my phone afterwards. The following morning, I tried reaching him again, but it still was not going through.
“I went on WhatsApp and I saw the picture of my husband and his co-pilot with the caption: ‘Rest in Peace’ on the status update of one of his colleagues, who didn’t know that I had his WhatsApp number. When I saw it, I was so shocked that I threw my phone away in disbelief. I picked it up again and went through it. Just as I was about running out of the house, the commander arrived to confirm my fear.”
The military officers died in the line of duty while providing close-air support to troops of 145 Battalion, Damasak, Borno State, in the ongoing counter-insurgency operations.The five officers of the Nigerian Air Force who died in the helicopter crash were buried yesterday.
The officers are: Flight Lieutenant Perowei Jacob – Pilot in Command (aged 32); Flight Lieutenant Kaltho Paul Kilyofas – Co-Pilot (aged 29); Sergeant Auwal Ibrahim – Flight Technician (aged 31); Lance Corporal Adamu Nura – Gunner (aged 27), and Aircraftman Meshack Ishmael – Gunner (aged 25).Service chiefs, serving and retired officers, as well as friends and family members were on ground to pay their last respects to the officers as they were buried. They were buried with full military honours at 11:20a.m. at the National Military Cemetery Abuja, amidst wails and tears by family members, wives, relatives and sympathisers.
Wreaths were also laid by the Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali and the wives of some of the officers. The air chief also presented the national colours to the families of the deceased crew members.The late officers were honoured with 21 gun salute (Firing of Volley) as well as the Last Post.
Abubakar, an air marshal, in his remarks at the ceremony said that the late officers died for the peace and unity of Nigeria.“These gallant heroes lost their lives in the pursuit of the peace which we all enjoy and often take for granted. We salute the courage of these young men, whose lot it became to give their lives for this purpose.
“The loss of these courageous and professional gentlemen must spur the rest of us not only to rededicate ourselves in the service of our nation, but also to expose and fight all agents of destabilization and extremism in our society. We must throw in everything we have to this fight to ensure that our departed colleagues did not die in vain.
“We must do everything possible to bring the ongoing insurgency in the North East to a speedy end that is favourable to our nation. I am indeed deeply touched and saddened by the price, which our patriots had to pay in this needless fight against insurgency.He consoled with the families of the deceased, noting that “I know Nigerians everywhere join me in praying for you as you shoulder this heavy burden of grief.
“May time ease the soaring pain of today and please note that the entire nation shares this grief with you. There can be no better consolation than the knowledge that the nation grieves with you on the loss of these amiable and patriotic Nigerians, who paid the supreme price in the course of their duty to the fatherland,” he said.