Missing NAF Jet raises credibility questions over Boko Haram claims, transparency by the Military
The claim of responsibility by Boko Haram insurgents for the downing of a Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet and denial of the claim by the Nigerian Airforce has raised new questions over the credibility of such claims by Boko Haram and the level of transparency of the military in the war against insurgency in the country.
With the development, experts and other stakeholders are raising questions and have advised the military on how to gain the confidence of Nigerians as they battle the insurgents.
On Thursday, 1st of April, the Nigerian Air Force announced, in an early morning statement, that one of its Alpha fighter jets involved in the war against insurgency in the North-East lost contact with radar in the evening of Wednesday, 31st of March, 2021.
“Details of the whereabouts of the aircraft or likely cause of contact loss are still sketchy but will be relayed to the general public as soon as they become clear. Meanwhile, search and rescue efforts are ongoing”, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, said in the short statement.
The statement brought anxiety among Nigerians, as it is coming not too long after another military aircraft belonging to the nation’s Air Force was involved in a crash in the precinct of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, killing all those on board.
The fears of Nigerians were, however, confirmed, when on Friday, 2nd of April, Nigerians were greeted with another update from Air Commodore Gabkwet, saying the fighter jet might have crashed, naming the two officers, both pilots of the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
Gabkwet said again: “Intelligence report gathered by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) indicates that the Alpha Jet aircraft (NAF475) that went off the radar with 2 crew members on board on 31 March 2021 might have crashed,” he said.
“The cause of the crash as well as the whereabouts of the 2 pilots remain unknown. The pilots are Flight Lieutenant John Abolarinwa and Flight Lieutenant Ebiakpo Chapele.
“Extensive search and rescue efforts are still ongoing by NAF surveillance aircraft as well as NAF Special Forces and Nigerian Army troops on the ground.
“At this point, the NAF is not ruling out anything regarding the incident. It however remains hopeful that the crew would soon be found and rescued,” he said.
For many, this was really bad news and a sad way to start a new month, even as they were in for another shocker, this time around, from a common enemy Nigerians loath so much, the dreaded and murderous Boko Haram insurgents, operating in the North-East geopolitical zone of the country.
The insurgents, employing videos uploaded on the internet, claimed responsibility for downing the NAF fighter jet in Borno. The claim by Boko Haram no doubt presented a grim picture to Nigerians, as it means that the insurgents have become so sophisticated that they now have the capacity and capability to bring down a fighter jet.
This, without question, points to a more dangerous possibility, a prolonged war in the North-East, deadlier ability of the insurgents to inflict pain, and a weakened impact on air interdiction by the Nigerian military against the terrorists. The claim also made even more sense to some other Nigerians who recollected claims by Kaduna-based Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi, who said in an interview that bandits he met in Zamfara forests were about acquiring anti-aircraft guns.
However, on Saturday, the Nigerian Air Force, through its spokesman, Air Commodore Gabkwet, faulted Boko Haram’s claim of responsibility, concluding that it was just another propaganda and ego-tripping.
According to Gabkwet, the videos that went viral online were doctored to deceive the general public, massage the ego of the terrorists and give them a semblance of power and momentary victory.
“Although the videos are still being thoroughly analyzed, it is evident that most parts were deliberately doctored to give a false impression that the aircraft was shot down.
“For instance, the video clip failed to show the correlation between the sporadic shooting, which even from casual observation was obviously aimed at ground targets, and the sudden mid-air aircraft explosion.
“In addition, it is almost impossible for an aircraft to have exploded mid-air, in the manner depicted in the video, and still have a good part of its fuselage, including its tail, intact.
“Indeed, an explosive impact of that nature would have scattered the debris of the aircraft across several miles”, Gabkwet said in a statement on Saturday while dismissing the claim and providing grounds for such dismissal.
According to the NAF spokesman, the claim by Boko Haram was nothing but the continuation of its characteristic manner of propaganda in seeking to claim credit for what it had no part in.
For many Nigerians, in a chat with Our Source, claims by Boko Haram have over time lost credibility, as they have been found to claim responsibility for acts that have no relation to them.
Some were quick to point to the abduction of over 300 students of Government Secondary School, Kankara in Katsina State as one of the reasons claims by Boko Haram should not be taken on its face value.
Our Source recalls that the Boko Haram insurgents had claimed that its operatives were responsible for the abduction of the students after it occurred. But accounts by government and security agencies pointed to the contrary, as the students were released after negotiations with bandits in Zamfara forests.
A security consultant based in Lagos, Tunde Sosina, believes the claim of responsibility for the downing of the fighter Jet by Boko Haram is another ploy to shore up their rating and massage their ego. According to him, the claim may just be another ego-tripping, propaganda, and an attempt to toy with the psyche of Nigerians.
“It is not a new practice by terrorists and rebels to claim responsibility for such incidents in an attempt to assume phantom effectiveness and a false sense of victory over their adversaries. It is part of their deployment of psychological warfare against the country and its armed forces. They employ that from time to time”, Sosina said.
Also speaking to Our Source, Dr. Joseph Erico, the Managing Director of Real Strikers Security Services Limited, Lagos believes that all that the Boko Haram insurgents are trying to do is to develop a false narrative to deceive Nigerians and the world at large about their perceived invincibility and ability to inflict maximum pain and damage in its reign of terror.
According to him, Boko Haram is no longer as capable as it used to be and will employ every false claim to promote its ego and assume tremendous firepower.
“I will call on Nigerians to disregard the claim the videos are intended to make. I have watched some and I wholly agree with the Nigerian Air Force in picking holes in them. Though I will concede that the insurgents are still a present threat to the North-East, especially Borno State, which is the hub of their operations, they certainly are not the same as we used to know them.
“That said, the Air Force and the military, in general, must quickly let Nigerians know what actually happened to the jet and its pilots. This is because, however, credible current pronouncements by NAF may be, there are still some Nigerians that believe the Boko Haram narratives. Many Nigerians are skeptical about the government and its security agencies, believing that there is always some level of cover-ups, especially in the war against insurgency and banditry. This is even more prevalent when it concerns casualties, as there had been several denials of a number of casualties in the past, many of which Nigerians have disagreed with.
“The insurgents, over time, have had more success in pushing their narratives because of seeming lack of trust and absence of transparency in the operation of the military. They urgently need to gain back the confidence of Nigerians and reduce the impact of the narratives being pushed by the insurgents, if they hope to secure the maximum support of citizens”, Ameh said.
For Sam-Segun Progress, a media consultant in the nation’s capital, Abuja, it is not enough to discredit the videos pushed out by Boko Haram. According to him, if Boko Haram did not down the aircraft, Nigerians must be told what happened.
“Nigerians are not fools, neither can there be any vacuum in life. If Boko Haram did not down the fighter jet, what happened? Or are we saying the jet just vanished? Did it crash? What led to the crash? What was the last communication with the control tower or center? At least, in a war situation, you have a command center the jets on a mission should communicate with. What were the things told to the command center by the pilots?
“Until military authorities come out clean to tell Nigerians what actually happened and the debris of the jet located since the Air Force said it must have been involved in an accident, Nigerians cannot be faulted in believing that the insurgents actually took it down. The burden of proof currently rests squarely on the military and not the insurgents. Let them come out to prove that Boko Haram’s claim is false. Until that is done, Nigerians will be right to believe that the insurgents have not been that ‘degraded’ or ‘technically defeated’ as the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has always claimed”, Progress said.