It was a tragic and sad day for the Nigerian army. An aircraft carrying eighteen of its generals to Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State crashed at Ngokugh hills of Benue State. Ten of the generals were killed instantly; the survivors would have also perished but for the gallant efforts of a 12 year old boy.
Last week on Friday November 23, the Daily Trust reminded us of how Detimbir Chia, then a mere 12-year-old lad, on September 17th 2006 helped save the lives of some of Nigeria's top military officers.
With a single phone call using a GSM set he found at the crash site, the boy, alerted the world to organise a rescue mission to site, which saved eight out of 18 people on board. According to the paper, his bravery had become a popular tale. Detimbir was working at his family farm located several miles from his village when the military aircraft heading for Obudu Cattle Ranch crashed.
The crash scene was within his sight, but instead of taking to his heels from the devastating scene, the boy summoned courage, approached the helpless victims, picked one cell phone among the many scattered items at the scene and called his father, Chia James Anakula, who at that time was the only person in his village that owned a GSM handset.
Chia then alerted relevant authorities who organised a rescue operation that saved some eight persons out of the 18 passengers on board.
It was an ironic twist of history. In 2001, Generals of the Nigerian army led their troops to mount a cordon of the whole Senatorial Zone in which the plane crashed. They then proceeded to unleash terror on the unarmed civilian population.
The declared mission of the army as advertised by their Commander in Chief, President Olusegun Obasanjo was to fish out the militants who killed 19 soldiers at Zaki Biam, a town also in the same Senatorial District. Their conduct however betrayed the fact that they were on a mission of rape, murder and plunder. The identity of those who murdered the soldiers was no secret having properly identified themselves through pictures that were in newspapers, magazines and television screens.
Instead of following that lead, the soldiers unleashed horror on the population of old and young men, women and children.
On the day of the generals' crash in 2006, their Commander in Chief was overseas. He cut short his trip and returned home and ordered three days of national mourning for the officers some of whom were in the top echelon of the Nigerian army. That was the much he could do. The man who detested visiting Benue during his years as President did not even see this as an opportunity to disabuse the minds of the Benue people - who suspected at this time - that he harboured deep personal hatred for the people of the state.
If the Commander in Chief felt it was below his status to go to the sight of the tragedy, at least it was consoling that his Chief of Defence Staff, General Owoye Andrew Azazi went. Apparently overjoyed by the courage of the young Detimbir, the then Chief of Defence Staff, promised to make his dream of becoming a soldier a reality. Azazi who visited the scene of incident on behalf of the military promised the boy an unhindered admission into the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) as a way of rewarding him.
Azazi's promise to the young man opened a floodgate of good luck and motivation. Former Benue State governor George Akume offered Detimbir a scholarship which led to his relocation from the obscure village on transfer from his former Government Secondary School, Koti, Shangev -Ya, to Command Secondary School, Makurdi, where he completed studies in 2011.
He passed his WEAC examination with seven credits including the compulsory university requirement of Mathematics and English. He also took his entrance examination to the NDA and out of the 100 candidates from his state, he was number 4. Suddenly, the NDA concluded that the young man has high blood pressure and is not eligible for enlistment. This claim is however belied for according to his guardian, Chief Emmanuel Viashima, several other medical reports show that the boy is healthy.
The Nigerian army used to be run by great minds. Unfortunately, of late it appears to have been overrun by little minds. How can the Israeli army for instance reject a young chap who has shown so much promise and love for the army? Is the army aware that a case like this is capable of damaging civil military relations? Do they expect the civil population to rise up to their help when they are in a similar distress as the one Detimbir rescued them from?
Hear the free-talking Director of Defence Information Colonel Mohammed Yerima saying "I was not around when the matter was discussed," In other words he is telling us that the Nigerian Army keeps no records, not even of the Chief of Defence Staff's pronouncement on the tragic fate of ten generals who died all in one day. Haba!
Yawe is a former editor of Crystal Magazine.