Retired Major General Danjuma Ali-Keffi, former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 1 Division of the Nigerian Army, has raised serious concerns about the fatal air crash that claimed the life of former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, and 11 other senior military officers.
In an exclusive interview with THISDAY, Ali-Keffi contends that the crash is intricately linked to terror financiers, urging President Bola Tinubu to launch an immediate investigation into the incident.
Ali-Keffi, who expressed his reservations about the official investigation, alleges a deliberate suppression of critical details surrounding the crash.
He emphasized that the full report of the investigation has not been disclosed to the public, adding an air of suspicion to the circumstances leading up to the tragic incident.
The retired general asserts that Attahiru was pivotal in formulating strategies to eradicate terrorism in Northern Nigeria.
Ali-Keffi contends that the late army chief’s efforts to tackle terrorism extended to exposing and neutralizing terror financiers.
In a detailed account of the events leading to the crash, Ali-Keffi raises questions about the abrupt changes in the scheduled trip, alterations in the choice of aircraft, and modifications in the landing airport.
He points to a sequence of unusual events, including the aircraft’s descent in stormy weather, a delayed departure, and an ear-shattering explosion before the crash, casting doubt on the official narrative.
Ali-Keffi explained, “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 there about. 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 a meteorological alert that Kaduna airspace was going to experience heavy rainfall accompanied with the 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 conditions 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 go to the Civil (International Airport) as the NAF runway was not long enough to enable the aircraft 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 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 cited 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. Fire fighters 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?”
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