Terror sponsors behind air crash that killed former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Attahiru, claims retired General Ali-Keffi

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu has been asked to probe the air crash that killed former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru and ensure that those involved in the incident are brought to justice.

Former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maj Gen Danjuma Ali-Keffi (rtd), who made the call claimed that the crash was linked to terror sponsors.

Ibrahim Attahiru, the Chief of Army Staff died in a plane crash on May 21, 2021 .

He died a few months after his appointment.

Later, the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, stated that the crash of the Nigerian Air Force jet which killed the Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen Attahiru Ibrahim, and 10 other officers was due to bad weather.

The DHQ in a release added that the then-Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Lucky Irabor, had ordered an investigation into the incident.

It occurred near the Kaduna International Airport in bad weather. Attahiru, one of the victims, was on his way to Kaduna to attend a passing-out parade for army recruits.

The Nigerian Army had listed the officers, who died in the crash, to include Attahiru, Brig Gen. M. I. Abdulkadir, Brig. Gen. Olayinka, Brig. Gen. Kuliya, Maj. L.A. Hayat, Maj. Hamza, and Sgt. Umar. The crew members were Flt. Lt. T.O. Asaniyi, Flt. Lt., A.A. Olufade, Sgt. Adesina, and ACM Oyedepo.

But speaking in an interview with THISDAY, Ali-Keffi, decried that the crash was swept under the carpet as the full report of the crash investigation was not made known, while insisting that the crash was linked to terror sponsors.

He said, “Let me put it succinctly, late General Attahiru showed strong commitment to end the insurgency ravaging the northern parts of the country.”

Ali-Keffi said Attahiru devised the strategy to end terrorism in the North, part of which was infiltration of terror groups and the instigation of a crisis among terror leaders, which culminated in the elimination of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, by a rival terror group, Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP).

Part of the strategy was to also cut off the oxygen of terrorism, including funding and logistics, and to take down terror financiers, Ali-Keffi stated.

Ali-Keffi, who had been billed to receive the late army chief, as GOC 1 Division in Kaduna, pointed to the sudden change of time for Attahiru’s trip to Kaduna, the change of aircraft, change of airport of landing, from the military airstrip to the Kaduna International Airport, his landing in a turbulent, stormy weather, and the ear-shattering explosion that occurred before the crash.

He also pointed to the fact that there was no crater or impact on the crash area, noting that the bodies of the passengers were flung out of the aircraft and burnt beyond recognition long before the aircraft came down, a strong indication that there was an “explosion”.

“The Operation Service Wide (OSW), a presidential task force, which I was commanding at the time of Late General Attahiru’s headship of the Nigerian Army, had as its primary mandate to dismantle the terrorism financing network in order to aid the fight against terrorism and insurgency.

“Late General Attahiru appointed me as GOC 1 Div (whilst still being the Commander of OSW) to enable me effectively discharge the task (OSW). It is important to note that OSW was not just an investigative outfit but also carried out covert operations to capture, or kill insurgents’ leaders and key fighters in the field; destroy insurgent camps and facilities, as well support the military and other security agencies’ operations.

“Furthermore, having command of 1 Div served as cover for me to carry out the task (OSW) without attracting unnecessary attention or making people aware of the existence of the outfit (OSW).”

Ali-Keffi continued, “About 2100 hrs on Thursday 20 May 2021, I spoke on phone with the Chief of Staff (COS) to the late COAS regarding their impending trip to Kaduna the following day (21 May 2021). I had earlier spoken with General Attahiru on the same issue. We ended our conversation on the note that the late COAS and entourage would come by flight at about 1000 hrs the following day.

“About 0630 hrs the following morning, I called the COS to the late COAS to confirm if their travel plan was as we discussed the night before, as I needed to make arrangements for the Mosque that the COAS would attend Jummu’at (Friday) prayers.

“The COS informed me that there was a change of plan. He said after we finished speaking last night, they received a message that the late COAS was to attend a meeting either at the Honourable Minister of Defence (HMOD) office or at the Presidential Villa at about 1000 hrs on Friday 21 May 2021 and that the late COAS was to attend in person and not send a representative.

“It is important to note that the late COAS’ trip to Kaduna was part of his visit to Zaria to attend the Passing Out Parade at the Depot NA slated for Saturday 22 May 2021.

“It is worth noting that the movement of service chiefs out of station (Abuja) is with the prior knowledge of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the Honourable Minister of Defence (HMOD), and the presidency.

“So, why was a meeting scheduled for about the same time that the late COAS was to have departed for (or arrived) Kaduna and why the insistence that he (COAS) should not be represented?

“In any case, the COS informed me that in view of the meeting, they would depart the Flag House (official residence of the COAS) at about 1530 hrs (after attending the meeting and also after the Jummu’ at prayers) for the airport.

“They expected to arrive the airport at about 1600 hrs, board the aircraft at about 1610 – 1615 hrs and depart for Kaduna. At about 1600 hrs, I was informed that they had arrived the Presidential Wing of the Airport. I then set off from the Stallion House (official residence of the GOC) with my entourage in a convoy and arrived the Air Force Base at about 1615 hrs.

“For reasons that I cannot understand till today, the flight was delayed for over an hour and did not take off until 1730 hrs or thereabout. The reason for the delay, as I was informed, was that there was issue with the aircraft that was initially assigned for the mission (to convey the COAS and his entourage) and that it had to be changed.”

Ali-Keffi also disclosed, “Meantime, there was meteorological alert that Kaduna airspace was going to experience heavy rainfall accompanied with storm (wind shear) and it was advised. Already, the cloud had formed in Kaduna, which was visible to us at the airport.

“As a matter of fact, the cloud was so thick, which was indicative of a massive storm. I began to nurse doubts about the flight. At some point, I voiced my doubts to Air Commodore Iyamu and Air Commodore Ilo, who were with me to receive the COAS.

“I even suggested that they should advise Abuja of weather condition with a view to having the flight cancelled. At that point, I was informed that the aircraft was airborne (at about 1745 hrs). I became concerned as to whether the aircraft would be able to land at the airport in such a heavy rainfall, storm (the rain had started falling then).

“Thus, I was not surprised when Air Commodore Ilo informed me that we had to go to the Civil (International Airport) as the NAF runway was not long enough to enable the aircraft to land under the atrocious weather condition. We then set off for the International Airport but at a snail speed due to the heavy rainfall, which was accompanied with shale (ice particles).”

The former GOC further said, “When we got to the vicinity of the airport, there was a thunderous sound, which I thought was the sound of thunder. We had earlier sited what I believed was the aircraft descending to land on the runway. When we turned the bend to enter the tarmac, the thought on my mind was that the aircraft had touched down and was taxing to the parking area.

“I couldn’t see any aircraft on the runway. I frantically looked around and by the far side of the runway there was a fireball. It was the aircraft conveying General Attahiru! We got out the vehicles, crossed the runway and approached the burning aircraft. Firefighters were on hand to put out the blaze. At some point, we had to pull back due to the fear of exploding cylinders.

“We later recovered the corpses of the 10 passengers on board the ill-fated plane far from where the plane wreckage was. Apparently, their bodies, which were on fire, were flung from the aircraft before it came down (already in flames). Furthermore, the aircraft (or what was left of it), at least what I could recollect, was on a relatively flat grassland.

“There was no crater. This was indicative of a mid-air explosion. So, what caused the aircraft to explode? I wonder what the Air Safety and Accident Investigation Bureau report says about the incident.”

Ali-Keffi further queried, “Was the flight deliberately delayed in order to be caught up in the rainstorm? Was the aircraft sabotaged, which caused it to explode mid-air? Was the explosion caused by explosives? Was a bomb planted in the aircraft or contained in a parcel, which a passenger unknowingly (or knowingly) carried?”

Ali-Keffi had earlier written to Tinubu over his arrest, detention and compulsory retirement, following the revelations of a presidential investigative taskforce that he headed. The inquest had exposed the involvement of senior government officials, a top banker, and top military brass in terrorism financing.

He was head of OPS, which was set up by former President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate those allegedly involved in terrorism financing.

Ali-Keffi said he headed a presidency-instituted Board of Inquiry (BOI) convened by Major General BM Monguno (rtd), the former National Security Adviser (NSA), which sat in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) for five weeks, from early January to late February 2020.

He stated, “I was the president of the BOI, with members/secretary drawn from the NCS, NIS, DSS, NIA, ONSA, NFIU. The Board of Inquiry, which largely conducted its work as an investigative body was tasked to investigate circumstances surrounding the illegal smuggling of petroleum products contained in 168 oil tankers into Benin Republic through a single smuggling route in Ilesa Barbara in Kwara State.”

Ali-Keffi said the BOI went further to uncover 295 oil tankers that conveyed Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), with the major smugglers identified.

He said, “The petition stated that the BOI made a significant discovery regarding the relationship between the smuggling racket, the terrorism besetting the North-east, the banditry/kidnapping for ransom, which was at its formative stage in the North-west and parts of North-central geo-political zones, the illegal mining of minerals in the North-west and North-central, and large scale laundering of mostly funds meant for counterterrorism/insurgency operations that was ongoing mostly in the northern regions of the country.

“A syndicate, which had extensive network in the country as well as being affiliated to international criminal network, was as the centre of moving finances for terrorism for other criminal activities stated above.”

Ali-Keffi revealed, “The most worrisome aspect was that some of the individuals involved in terrorism financing of Boko Haram terrorists and who were also involved in procurement and movement of arms and ammunition for BH and other criminal organisations had links with the military.

“It was, thus, apparent that terrorism and insurgency in the North-east, North-west, and North-central were a criminal enterprise and were largely undertaken with profit rather than any ideology, as the primary motive.

“Thus, we at the BOI arrived at the obvious conclusion that progress cannot be achieved except the financiers, collaborators, supporters and the leadership of the terrorists and insurgents groups are identified and the network dismantled.”

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) constituted an audit committee four days after the Kaduna air crash that claimed the lives of Attahiru and other officers to investigate the incident. The then Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, formed a team of serving and retired senior officers to conduct a safety audit of all NAF operational and engineering units.

Air Force Spokesman, Air Vice Marshal Edward Gabkwet, said in a statement at the time of the crash that the committee was to, among others, analyse safety reports from operational and engineering units, conduct safety evaluation of NAF units, and recommend safety measures.

It said the team would also interact with unit operational and technical personnel for views, observations, and contributions on safety measures.

Chaired by Air Vice Marshal Abraham Adole, then Deputy Theatre Commander, Operation HADIN KAI, the committee was to submit its report not later than June 18, 2021. The Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) in collaboration with Nigerian Air Force also submitted an interim report on the Air Force aircraft, King Air 350.

Presenting the report to Amao, former Chief Executive Officer of AIB, Akin Olateru, said the report contained 27 findings and eight recommendations for immediate implementation.

Although the statement, jointly signed by Gabkwet and his AIB counterpart, Tunji Oketunbi, did not contain the details of the recommendations, the statement said the report was organised into three sections.

It said, “The submitted report is organised into three sections, namely, the information obtained in the course of the investigation; analysis of data collected in view of the board’s terms of reference and the conclusion, which covers the initial findings and immediate recommendations.”

The statement also said the final report would contain more detailed information. But it was not made public.

When contacted, Defence spokesman, Brig Gen Tukur Gusau, promised to react to Ali-Keffi’s claims but referred the reporter to the army.

“Let me see if I can get a response. You should also call the army,” he said.

Spokesmen for the Army and Air Force were not forthcoming with any response at the time of filling the report.


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