The Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF), the umbrella body of the 36 governors in the federation, yesterday rose from an emergency meeting in Abuja, demanding that they be allowed to appoint a private consultant to help in the investigation into the naval helipcopter crash on Saturday in the Nembe creeks, Bayelsa State.
Six persons, including former Kaduna State Governor, Mr. Patrick Yakowa; former National Security Adviser (NSA), Lt-General Andrew Owoye Azazi (rtd), who were on board the helicopter were killed in the incident.
The decision by the governors, coincided with the statement by the Nigerian Navy yesterday defending the airworthiness of its Augusta Helicopter.
The governors, according to a communiqué read by the NGF Chairman, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, also called for a thorough investigation and openness into the incident.
Immediately after the meeting, the governors left for Kaduna to condole with the late governor's widow, Amina, the Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Ramalan Yero, and the people of the state.
Amaechi, who led the delegation to Kaduna, told Yero that the forum was pained by the tragic incident that killed the late governor and others and prayed that God would give the new governor the strength to lead the state.
Yero commended the show of love and concern exhibited by the NGF, saying the death of his former boss was a sad one not envisaged by anyone, but added that God knows why it happened.
The governors also visited the widow and Vice-President Namadi Sambo who was also receiving dignitaries at the Hassan Usman Katsina House, Kawo.
However, the navy yesterday dismissed insinuations that the helicopter was not airworthy before it crashed, saying that it was in an excellent condition before take-off.
Its declaration on the airworthiness of the helicopter, notwithstanding, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, has set up a board of inquiry to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the crash of the helicopter, whose black box has been recovered.
Following raging rumours that the ill-fated helicopter had a technical fault before its take-off on Saturday, the Naval Chief of Training and Operations, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogbor, said the crashed helicopter labelled NN07, along with others in the fleet of the Nigerian Navy, was properly maintained in accordance with manufacturers' specifications.
Ogbor, who addressed reporters yesterday in Abuja, said the navy does not compromise on the safety standards of all its equipment.
"In line with this, the Nigerian Navy conducts routine maintenance of its helicopters, in conjunction with the aircraft manufacturers, Agusta Westland.
"In order to ensure the serviceability of helicopters, a certified technical support engineer from Agusta Westland is retained in Nigeria by the Nigerian Navy at a huge cost to support the maintenance efforts," Ogbor added.
According to him, the Agusta Westland engineer in collaboration with the navy aircraft engineers certified the airworthiness of the crashed helicopter before it was deployed to service.
He explained that the ill-fated helicopter, which was inducted into service in 2004, was bought directly from its manufacturers and had flown only 1,704 flight hours since its purchase.
He added that apart from the airworthiness and regular maintenance of the Agusta 07 helicopter, the captain in command was well trained and had over 800 hours flight experience as a pilot.
Ogbor said: "At the time of the incident, the helicopter had flown 1,704 flight hours. Her last scheduled routine maintenance was concluded on November 19, 2012 and was cleared for operations on November 20, 2012 by certified technical support engineers.
"When the aircraft crashed, it had more than 80 flight hours left before the next scheduled routine maintenance.
"The Nigerian Navy pilots are very experienced. In fact, the captain in command had flown over 800 hours while the co-pilot had flown over 300 hours. All our pilots are trained in the best aviation institutions all over the world.
"Additionally, spare parts for the helicopters are obtained from the manufacturers (AW) and or its approved maintenance centres worldwide."
Ogbor further told reporters that the search and rescue team dispatched to the site of the crash in Bayelsa State had recovered the black box of the crashed helicopter, while a panel of enquiry had been constituted to unearth the cause of the air mishap.
Membership of the probe panel includes aircraft investigation specialists from Agusta Westland and other aviation regulatory agencies.
"It is expected that the board will come out with the remote and immediate causes of the accident with far-reaching recommendations that will forestall future occurrence," the rear admiral added.
Irrespective of the navy's investigation into the cause of the crash, it was learnt that members of the probe team raised by President Goodluck Jonathan had arrived in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, to begin work.
Ezeoba, who was with members of the team when they visited the state governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, told him they were in the state in line with the Federal Government's order to unravel the circumstances that led to the crash.
The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation is also considering probing the helicopter crash. Its Chairman, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, while condoling with the families of the victims, said the committee would conduct a holistic investigation into the remote and immediate causes of the crash.
Acting Minister of Defence, Mrs Olusola Obada, also vowed yesterday that her ministry would do all it could to get to the root of the accident.
Obada, who expressed regrets over the incident and sympathy to the bereaved families, said: "The Ministry of Defence will leave no stone unturned to ascertain the cause of the unfortunate incident, and wishes to assure all Nigerians of the continued commitment and dedication of the Ministry of Defence towards service to the nation."
The First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, who was also on a condolence visit to Mrs. Yakowa, broke down in tears as she was overwhelmed by grief.
The first lady, who arrived at about 1.15 pm and left almost an hour later, said she wept because she is a woman.
"I am sorry that I am crying. I cried because I am a woman and I know what she (the widow of Yakowa) is passing through at the moment. We came here to console her and sympathise with the good people of Kaduna State.
"Yakowa was a peaceful man. A man who was everything; a strong hardworking man. My sister and friend, we sit here with you in sorrow. I want you to know that you are now the mother and father of your children and we will continue to hold you in prayers.
"It is only God that can comfort you because man cannot comfort you. May the Almighty comfort you," she said.
In his message, the NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd), also expressed condolences to the families of Azazi, his immediate predecessor, and that of Yakowa.
A statement from his office said Dasuki had already called and spoken with Mrs. Alero Azazi over the death of her husband who was his friend and Regular 12 course mate.
Meanwhile, amid growing tension in the state following the swearing in of Yero as substantive governor to replace Yakowa, the first Christian governor to administer the state since its creation in 1967, a group of Northern youths has cautioned against the politicisation of the former governor's death.
In a statement by its president, Mr. Melvin Ejeh, the Association of Northern Youths for the Advancement of Peace, Harmony and Development cautioned leaders against politicising the death of Yakowa and Azazi.
The group said it was worried by "the celebratory comments and bike marathon that took place in some parts of the state when the news of Yakowa's death broke."