The rite of passage for former Kaduna State Governor, Mr. Patrick Yakowa, who died in a naval helicopter crash in Bayelsa State on Saturday, began yesterday as his body arrived in Kaduna, from Yenagoa, preparatory to the burial tomorrow.
Before Yakowa's remains, which were contained in a golden casket draped with the national flag, departed for Kaduna, the Bayelsa State Government held a valedictory executive session in honour of the late governor during which many dignitaries, including the governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson, paid tributes to him.
Also in attendance at the valedictory session was the Special Adviser to the President on Research and Documentation, Mr. Oronto Douglas, whose father's funeral Yakowa and the former National Security Adviser (NSA), General Andrew Owoye Azazi (rtd), who also died in the helicopter crash along with four others, were leaving when the accident occurred.
The Azazi family has also tentatively fixed December 29 for the funeral of the former NSA.
Hours before the arrival of Yakowa's body, the Kaduna Airport and its vicinity were besieged by a throng of people who crowded the place to catch a glimpse of the body.
The arrival of the Nigerian Air Force cargo plane that brought the body and that of Yakowa's aide, Dauda Tsoho, who also died in the helicopter crash, at about 2.45 pm, caused a stir.
The bodies of the duo were accompanied by Bayelsa State Deputy Governor, Gboribiogha John Jonah, and some top government officials as well as a former governor of the state, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha,
The sight of the casket bearing Yakowa's remains triggered a wave of sobbing and weeping among the crowd, which included the late governor's successor, Alhaji Ramalan Yero, as well as other top government officials and political leaders.
Also at the airport to receive the body of the former governor was his widow, Amina, and three of their children, who were all dressed in black.
As the caskets were being brought down from the plane, the huge crowd defied all the security barricades and rushed straight to the tarmac as they struggled to catch a glimpse of the casket containing Yakowa's body.
Members of some women fellowship groups and church societies that were praying and singing hymns at the airport before the arrival of the bodies, burst into uncontrollable tears as the caskets were lifted down.
Security agents, who were stationed to control the crowd, were overwhelmed by the surging crowd, but ensured that prominent personalities were protected.
Handing over the remains of Yakowa and Tsoho to Yero, Jonah expressed sympathy with the bereaved families and the people of the state.
He said Bayelsa yesterday held a valedictory executive session in memory of the late governor and described the late Yakowa as a bridge builder.
He urged the people of the state to support the new governor to enable him to carry on with the foundation laid by his predecessor.
Receiving the remains of his former boss, Yero commended the government and people of Bayelsa State for their support and prayers.
He assured the people that he would continue to build on the foundation laid by the late Yakowa for the sustenance of peace, unity and progress of the state.
After the handover, brief prayers were held at the tarmac before the bodies were conveyed in an ambulance to the mortuary of St. Gerald's Catholic Hospital, Kaduna.
As the motorcade left the airport, passing through the Nnamdi Azikiwe Express Way Bye Pass, residents trooped out to bid farewell to the late governor.
Senate President David Mark and his wife, Helen, who could not make it to the airport, were at the hospital to receive Yakowa's body.
The state government later announced that Yakowa would be buried tomorrow.
The government in a statement said a valedictory executive council meeting would hold later today, while the wake would hold later in the day by 3 pm.
The corpse is expected to leave the hospital tomorrow for its final journey to Fadan Kagoma, Jama'a Local Government Area for interment after a funeral mass at St. Paul's Catholic Church, Fadan Kagoma.
Earlier in Yenagoa, Dickson, Alamieyeseigha and other eminent Nigerians paid tributes to the late Yakowa, describing him as a bridge builder and a true democrat.
Douglas, who witnessed the occasion, was all tears as Dickson also condoled with President Goodluck Jonathan for the sudden demise of Yakowa.
Meanwhile, contrary to reports that the ill-fated helicopter had made several shuttles last Saturday between Port Harcourt and Okoroba, THISDAY checks revealed that the ill-fated helicopter made only one trip to Okoroba last Saturday with the husband of the Minister of State for Defence, Chief Tunde Obada, and the late Azazi.
According to a senior naval source, the helicopter was only supposed to drop both Yakowa and Azazi in Port Harcourt and return to take Obada when it went down in the forest.
The senior Nigerian Navy officer, who justified the use of the helicopter during the funeral of Douglas' father, said one of the functions of the helicopter was for the movement of retired military brass and VIPs.
"On that particular shuttle, it was conveying a governor (Yakowa) and former NSA who are VIPs. So it is not correct to say that it was for the purpose of a funeral shuttle that the helicopter was deployed. It was used to convey VIPs on that day.
"It was properly deployed and had previously been used to carry the governors during the flooding nationwide. It is a military helicopter and it is meant for security, among other uses.
"The chopper is a government asset and can be deployed for whatever reasons," he said.
Asked whether the accident could have been due to the fact that the helicopter had been overstretched on the day of the crash, the naval officer dismissed the suggestion, saying: "It is not true that the helicopter did 15 shuttles.
"The Accident Investigation Board of Inquiry (set up by the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba) will determine all this."
He said: "The accident could have happened for a number of reasons: it could have been a human error; it could have been mechanical failure. You can even buy a new car and it can fail."
THISDAY also learnt that the family of the late Azazi has tentatively unveiled plans to bury his remains on December 29, in Bayelsa State.
The deceased's first son, Owoye Azazi Jnr, said the plans were not conclusive and subject to last minute changes.
According to him, they would have loved to bury their father next week but for some factors which were important enough for consideration.
Also, a senior military officer, who did not want to be named, said the deceased would be buried in his hometown in Yenagoa, after a service of songs.
He could not however confirm whether the service of songs would be held in the deceased's home in Lagos or in his home state, Bayelsa.
Dignitaries who trooped to the deceased's home in Ikoyi, Lagos, to commiserate with the bereaved family, poured encomiums on the late general.
Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, while speaking with the deceased's widow, described Azazi as a fine gentleman.
He said: "He made history in the Nigerian Army by commanding every major unit in the army. He moved on to become the Chief of Army Staff and then the Chief of Defence Staff.
"He might not have died in the war front but he died in service to the nation and in a military helicopter. We are here to remind you that we share your pains."
Some of the dignitaries that paid a visit to the Azazis were the former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, and former Chiefs of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Paul Dike and General A.O. Ogomudia.
As the nation continues to mourn Yakowa, Azazi and others, the Senate yesterday mandated its three Committees on Navy, Air Force and Aviation to immediately commence a full-scale investigation into last Saturday's crash of the naval helicopter.
It unanimously resolved that the investigation should cover all recent air crashes in the country with a view to finding a permanent solution to the crashes.
In their contributions, the senators observed that the need by the upper chamber to conduct an independent investigation into the crash had become expedient because previous investigating panels set up to ascertain the causes of previous plane crashes were yet to produce reports.
Adopting the resolution during plenary, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, stated that the Senate condemned the resurgence of air mishaps in the country and the seeming inability of government to unravel the causes of the accidents.
Leading the debate on the floor on the matter, Senate Committee Chairman on Navy, Senator Chris Anyanwu, stressed the urgent need to investigate last Saturday's crash because in 2007 and 2011, there had been two crashes of similar Augusta helicopters owned by the Navy.
On his part, Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi condemned the use of a military helicopter for use by civilians during the burial of Douglas' father.
He said the use of the naval helicopter by unauthorised politicians was symptomatic of the corruption within the Nigerian system and attributed Yakowa, Azazi and others' deaths to the failure of the system to address the issue of corruption.
According to him, the crashed helicopter was a military training helicopter, but was obviously not being used for military training on that day.