There was a slight disagreement on Saturday between the family of the late Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, and the Nigerian Army over the COAS’ burial.
The disagreement led to a short delay of the COAS’ interment as his family insisted that he must be buried without a coffin in accordance with Islamic injunction.
But some senior army officers argued that Attahiru’s remains would be buried according to military traditions.
After some time, the family was convinced by the superior arguments and the grave was widened to accommodate the coffin.
Attahiru and 10 other military officers were involved in a crash on Friday at the Kaduna International Airport.
It was reported that the aircraft conveying the military officers, with registration number 5N-R203, was billed to land at the Nigerian Airforce Base in the Mando area of Kaduna but diverted to land at the civil airport due to inclement weather.
Apart from Attahiru, other victims were Brigadier Generals Ahmed Kuliya, O Olayinka, and MI Abdulkadir; Majors N Hamza, LA Hayat; Sergeants O Adesina, and Umar; as well as Aircraftman OM Oyedepo, Flt Lt TO Asaniyi, and Flt Lt AA Olufade.
Deceased’s wife, sister collapsed amid untimely farewell
It was a sombre moment as the remains of the COAS, Attahiru, and 10 others were interred at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja on Saturday, in full military honours 24 hours after the incident.
Military officers in ceremonial dress with black band tied around their arms trooped into the cemetery to pay their last respects.
The burial ceremony was overseen by the Guards Brigade of the Nigerian Army, led by its Commander, Brig Gen Takuti Usman.
It commenced with the arrival of senior retired and serving officers and other government officials, including a former COAS, Lt Gen Azubuike Ihejirika; Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor; Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.
Meanwhile, as the ceremony was underway, a sister of one of the deceased officers collapsed around 4.12pm and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance with registration number, NDC160.
The wife of one of the late officers who also fainted was revived and whisked away in a sport-utility vehicle.
The remains of the Beachcraft 350 aircraft occupants were buried at the National Military Cemetery located on the Shehu Yar’Adua Road (also called Airport Road), in the Federal Capital Territory.
The deceased officers’ final journey on Saturday started from Kaduna, where the crash occurred.
Their corpses were airlifted and received at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja at about 11am by senior military officers.
The remains were thereafter conveyed in ambulances amidst tight security to where funeral services were held for them.
The corpses of victims who were Muslims were driven to the National Mosque, Abuja, where Salāt al-Janāzah prayer was held in their honour, while the bodies of the Christian victims were taken to the Nigerian Air Force Protestant Church located inside the Air Force Base for their funeral service.
Lawan, Sultan, others bid Attahiru, others farewell
Hundreds of family members, friends and sympathisers, as well as serving and retired military officers stormed the National Mosque, where prayers were said for the repose of the souls of Attahiru and five other officers who were Muslims.
Among those present at the ceremony were the Yobe State Governor and Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the All Progressives Congress, Mai Mala Buni; Borno State Governor, Prof Babagana Zulum; and former governors Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi) and Kabiru Gaya (Kano).
Others included the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami; Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen; and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar.
The event, which was initially scheduled to start at 10am, was delayed till 12.30pm.
The bodies of the deceased officers, e conveyed in six ambulances, arrived at the mosque at 12.25pm.
The Janazah prayer, however, did not hold until 1.45pm after the Muslims said the regular 1pm prayer in the mosque.
While the people waited, family members were allowed to see the bodies of the slain officers in the vehicles.
Some of them were seen wailing while others said prayers.
The Janazah prayer was led by one of the four imams of the National Mosque, Sheikh Ahmad Onilewura.
The six bodies, which were in caskets draped in the national flag, were laid on the floor as the prayers were said. The prayer took place at the southern side of the mosque.
After the prayer that lasted less than 10 minutes, the caskets were taken back into the ambulances, and driven out of the premises shortly after.
Speaking to journalists after the prayers, Lawan said, “I really feel so sober, that this is how life is. The Chief of Army Staff particularly was someone who was attending a function that could have taken place today (Saturday). Now, this is what has happened to him and his colleagues. Anyone of us could die at any time. So, we should always prepare for that kind of a day. May Almighty Allah grant them Aljannah Firdaus.”
Onilewura, who also spoke to journalists, described death as a leveller, warning Nigerians, especially the elite, to be godly in their dealings as no one could escape death.
Family members weep at church
At the NAF Protestant Church, the mood was initially pensive as bereaved family members arrived.
The palpable silence on the premises, however, changed when the siren of the ambulances conveying the remains of Brigadier General Olayinka of the Nigerian Army; and Flt Lt Olufade, Flt Lt Asaniyi, Sgt Adesina and Aircraftman Oyedepo of the Air Force rented the air.
Sympathisers had a hectic time consoling the grieving family members as the caskets, draped in national colours, were being moved one after the other into the church hall.
At the service, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Isiaka Amao, admonished friends, families and colleagues of the deceased officers not to allow the sacrifices of the deceased to be in vain.
Amao said, “As members of the Armed Forces and citizens of this great nation, we must be consoled that the legacy they left behind is the ultimate sacrifice they have paid in service of our motherland.
“We must, therefore, continue to remember them and not let their sacrifices be in vain. I appeal to you, however, to take solace in God, who is the greatest comforter.”
Amao also encouraged members of the Armed Forces who were present to emulate the selflessness, courage and commitment shown by the deceased military men.
Also, the Director of the Chaplaincy, Group Capt Dogo Gani, asked the bereaved to put their confidence in God who knew best and would comfort them in their down moments.
Special prayers were offered for the deceased’s families while the victims’ remains were thereafter driven to the National Military Cemetery for burial.
Buhari absent at burial site
The President, Muhammadu Buhari, was conspicuously absent both at the National Mosque and the National Military Cemetery where dignitaries paid their last respects to the Chief of Army Staff and others.
According to the programme of events at the cemetery, Buhari was assigned to deliver special remarks as the Commander-in-Chief.
But he was, however, represented at the event by the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd.).
The President returned to the country on Thursday after a four-day official visit to France.
Magashi had on Friday evening led a delegation of top government officials to the Presidential Villa, Abuja to formally inform Buhari of the crash.
In his remarks on Saturday, Magashi, speaking on Buhari’s behalf, urged members of the armed forces and all Nigerians to uphold the virtues the late COAS and the other deceased officers.
He said, “The late Attahiru was an icon of professionalism, bravery and discipline. And he aptly demonstrated these attributes through his national and international military assignments which culminated is being the Chief of Army Staff.
“The late COAS inspired courage and confidence in the Nigerian Army, which informed the successes recorded under his watch.”
At the burial, the Chief of Defence Staff, Lucky Irabor, assured Nigerians that Attahiru’s death had not halted the war against insecurity in the country.
He said, “The sting of death, you have not stopped the fight against all forms of insecurity.
“To my fellow Nigerians, the challenges are for a moment. The armed forces of Nigeria remain undaunted. We are unmovable; the war against insecurity must be won, truly must be won.”
Army flag flies at half-mast at headquarters
Meanwhile, gloom enveloped parts of the FCT from early morning on Saturday.
The flag of the Nigerian Army was seen flying at half-mast at its headquarters within the Armed Forces Complex in Garki, Abuja at about 10.30am when one of our correspondents visited.
The Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Saturday joined other Nigerians to mourn the late COAS and others.
His condolence message was contained in a statement made available to journalists by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, titled ‘Death in service of Army Chief, Attahiru, others reflect depth of sacrifice.’’