interviewBy Misbahu Bashir
Air Marshal Alex S. Badeh was appointed Chief of Air Staff in October. In this interview with defence correspondents in Abuja recently, he said the military is combat-ready to confront any internal and external threat to the corporate existence of the country.
A number of aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) including C-130 are currently dysfunctional. What efforts are you doing to resuscitate them using the indigenous technology?
Not indigenous technology as you call it but the technology that we have acquired from outside. We have very well trained manpower. We have collaboration with Canfield University in United Kingdom and so far we have received over ten PhDs in field dynamics, telemetric, aircraft design and systems engineering.
When I was made the Chief of Air Staff and because of my previous experience at the headquarters, I know that money is not going to be made available as at when due. So, I said we should use innovative technology to repair the aircraft by ourselves. Otherwise transfer of technology won't be possible.
Back to your question on grounded aeroplanes. There are some that have reached their life limits and there is nothing we can do about them but to decommission them.
The C-130 planes that are faulty are being fixed. We are repairing two in Lagos right now and we are hopeful that by February next year we should have three C-130 flying. I think by what we are doing now, that is repairing three at a time it is better. If you repair all of them at the same time they will all be grounded at the same time.
The Air Force recently took over air border patrols, how effective is the exercise?
The Federal Government has directed that we should take the responsibility of air border patrols. Constitutionally, it is the responsibility of the Air Force to defend Nigeria from the air and that includes the border, as much as we can. We have the strength now to carry out maritime patrol. Our borders are so extensive and some of them uncharted or have not been demarcated. You won't know when you cross to the other country. We are still working with our ministry (Ministry of Defence) through a ministerial committee which was set up to harmonize that responsibility to the Air Force. As far as I know, that work has not been completed but we are talking about how we are going to acquire the assets we need for border patrol.
The Air Force had commenced familiarization flying training exercise and in the process, a plane crashed. Is the exercise still going on?
It is not familiarization exercise but a continuous one. Those aircraft are stationed in one place and what we are doing is to move from one base to other places such as Sokoto and Kano. It is a war strategy. Right now we are doing jungle and desert flights. Our Alpha jets will move to Port Harcourt and thereafter to Yola. So that is what we are doing now, moving from one base to another. You cannot be operating always from home base.
What about the cause of the crash?
You see in military training generally, casualty is something you can never run away from...
The first woman pilot was recently commissioned, is there any effort you are making to recruit more women pilots?
Yes, that female officer, Flying Officer Liman, is currently doing conversion course abroad because it takes shorter period to do the conversion there than in Nigeria. She has been redeployed to the Presidential Air Fleet; very soon you will see her flying the First Lady or the President himself. The reason why you don't see female pilots in the Air Force was due to mode entry, which entails that pilots must be trained at the Nigerian Defence Academy. But when the president gave us the mandate or the matching order to produce a female pilot, people were allowed to come in through the direct short service course and that was how we got Flying Officer Liman. In April, a recruitment exercise took place and it was open, unfortunately we didn't get female pilots. The obstacles are many: age is one of the obstacles. For you to be at the rank of officer, you must not be above 30 years. I know a Nigerian lady in Canada who saw the media advertisement for recruitment and indicated her interest to join the Air Force. We asked her to come but we found that she was 35 years old. For how long are you going to train and utilize her? We have more ladies undergoing training at the NDA now and the Academy has advertised for recruitment next year. So, ladies who are adventurous are free to join the air force; we are eagerly waiting for them.
In what area does the Air Force have comparative advantage in the fight against terror, compared to other services?
When you are on land, you can only pursue a suspect on land but in the air, you can see miles. You see, why we don't immediately catch the terrorists is because it is not written in their faces that they are terrorists. They go about their businesses and drive their cars like any other person and the next thing is that you hear explosion. We don't have the means of detecting IED inside the aeroplane but we have advantage in the air if we know where the terrorists are; we can go and meet them there. That was what we did in Jos this year; with just one aero plane everybody took cover. On land, hundreds of people will be looking for one individual. You can easily spot the person in the air.
What efforts are you making to improve your relations with the public?
We don't have bad public perception; it is the threat on the ground that made the air force personnel go into the society carrying guns. Before now, we just flew our planes and did our businesses in the barracks. Our directorate of public relations is reaching out to people and they are doing well. We have some cases of clashes between our personnel and the public and anytime we investigate; we find that our personnel are innocent.
How capable are you to the safeguard the territorial integrity of the nation?
By 1988, the Nigerian Air Force was the largest in Africa. We thank God for democracy because all those planes were bought by the government of Shehu Shagari. Then, military government came and started squeezing our neck. It was the military government that grounded everything in the Air Force. And when democracy returned in 1999, we started getting back to our feet. It was very slow, because nobody agreed to give us anything. There is perception that if you allow the military they might stage coup; let me tell you, let anybody mention the word coup, we ourselves in the military, will carry gun and go after the idiots. It is like trying to commit a class suicide. You use the military to defend democracy and the military is tool in the hand of democrats. We are as prepared as the number of platforms we have. We have been training massively. I don't want tell you how much it costs to train a pilot abroad but I can tell you that when I trained in 1981, it cost almost $500,000. We have over 130 personnel training right now outside Nigeria.