Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) and Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, yesterday, relived events preceding the take off of the ill-fated Navy helicopter that crashed last Saturday in Bayelsa State, killing former Kaduna State Governor, Mr Patrick Yakowa and former National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi and four others. They said they escaped death by the whiskers as they were scheduled to board the ill-fated helicopter.
General Gowon who spoke in Kafanchan, 200km, south of Kaduna town, during a Special Service Session to mark the 50th birthday of Apostle Emmanuel Nuhu Kure, of Throneroom Ministry, insisted that the incident was a mere accident, contrary to insinuations that it was planned to eliminate some people.
Meanwhile, Kagoma village, about 230km, South of Kaduna town, in Jema'a Local Government Area, where Yakowa was born, and would be buried today, is set to receive an unprecedented number of visitors, including President Jonathan Goodluck.
General Gowon in his speech recalled how he missed the tragic flight in the Naval Helicopter last Saturday.
Gowon said: "As we were with the aide of the President to pay our condolence, they were arranging a Navy Helicopter to take us to Yenagoa (with Yakowa). But, another Helicopter was arranged for me and five others. And that was it.
It was an accident -- Gowon
"So when I heard about this accident, it really pained me. And I want to say, well, you can never tell with some of these things. It was an accident. Don't read any meaning to it. Don't say that it is planned to get rid of some people or something like that.
"It was an accident, yes it was an accident. There was this young Pilot of the Helicopter, who came to me after another helicopter was found for us, and he said to me, 'sir, but I was to take you to Yenagoa, as part of my duty today'. And I said to him, 'don't worry, there will be another time. I really hope I will have the pleasure of flying with you again.
"These were nice innocent people. Something, probably mechanical, went wrong to have caused the accident. So it was not a plan to get rid of the Governor for whatever reason people want to guess.
"When, last Sunday, I saw the Governor (Ramalan Yero), who was newly sworn, I said , 'I hope you will continue with the good work that your late governor was doing. It was the two of you that were doing the work. You were working to bring peace to Kaduna State. I hope you will do something about this madness alluded to Boko Haram, which, unfortunately is being alluded to Muslims
"If Boko Haram are Muslims, then they are not the Muslims that I have worked with over the years. So don't just blame Muslims for the violence, but that particular group that none of us understands."
How I missed the flight --Maku
In his own narration of how he narrowly missed getting on the helicopter that crashed, Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku during a special Federal Executive Council meeting in honour of those who died during the crash, said:
"When we arrived, the late Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Patrick Yakowa and Gen. Andrew Azazi were already seated. The two of them were full of life, we greeted, we embraced and later we went for the funeral. unknown to us, it was to be the last moment we would have with these two distinguished sons of Nigeria.
"Council members would recall that General Azazi served in this chambers with us when he was National Security Adviser. He also rose in the distinguished career of this nation to the rank of a full Four Star General. He gallantly served as the Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Staff, then he was invited by Mr. President to help this nation overcome one of the most serious security challenges since the end of the civil war in 1970.
"He served his nation with distinction, he served to the best of his ability, he was able to manage the situation he found himself in until the time came for him to have relief and be replaced by another Nigerian to continue with the efforts by Mr. President to give this nation peace.
"Governor Patrick Yakowa served and had a distinguished career in the Civil Service and rose to the position of Permanent Secretary in the Civil Service of the Federation.
"All the time he was Deputy Governor in Kaduna State, he showed courage, humility, patience and was a man of peace and even as Governor, he was such a good man.
"When we met in Bayelsa, it was a twist of fate that we did not board the same day because on that day, the Special Adviser to the Vice President, Sani Umar and myself and Timi Alaibe, we were supposed to travel together with the two of them back to Port Harcourt. Somehow just before we could take off from the funeral arena, Sani backed out and decided to travel alone, I stood up and was going with them but by some involuntary action, I returned to my seat, I said I would wait for a moment, that was simply the twist of fate that kept us alive. We must give glory to God. I tell his story because nobody goes before his time, we must give God the glory for what has happened. Their destiny was that day and that is what God has done.
"We commit the souls of the gentlemen who died in the ill-fated crash to Almighty God and he will grant the country mercy," he said.
Meanwhile, parents of Lieutenant Adeyemi Sowole, the co-pilot of the ill-fated Navy helicopter that crashed last Saturday in Bayelsa State killing former Kaduna State Governor, Mr Patrick Yakowa and former National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi and three others lamented, yesterday, that five days after the incident that killed their son, they were yet to be officially informed of their son's death.
Both the father and mother of the late co-pilot, who spoke at their Iyana-Ipaja home as sympathizers, majority of whom were relatives and family friends thronged their residence to console them, described their son's death as one of the unfortunate things that has happened to them in their life time. It was obvious they were yet to come to terms with the reality of their son's demise.
Sitting on a sofa and nodding at the words of consolation from sympathizers, the bereaved mother, Mrs Olufunke Sowole, said her last conversation with the late Adeyemi was a promise from him that he would be back soon.
Speaking in Yoruba dialect, she said: " That conversation was on Friday evening. He called me by 5pm from Warri and told me they would be back to Lagos on Saturday evening. But rather, it was news of his death I heard.
"My son used to go for at least 15 trips every three weeks. And when he arrived at his destination, he would always call to inform me. I insisted he called me so that my mind would be at rest. As usual, he called to inform me that they were conveying some dignitaries and said they had conveyed them for about 15 times so far.
"We have gone through so many things to ensure our children were well to do. But I can not start relating that now. The late Femi also suffered to get to where he was. He started by attending the National Defence Academy (NDA) for five years and when he passed out, he was posted to a ship in Lagos.
"He later attended an Aviation school where he studied his kitty as a pilot for four years. Since he started flying, he had never been involved in an accident and I have never ceased to pray for him and his siblings.
He only arrived from Italy last year where he had gone for a course. And when he returned, he got married. He loved his job so much that whenever he came back from any trip, he would share his experience with us. I was so fond of him", she stated.
At this juncture, she kept quiet, shook her head and tried not to betray her emotion. As expected, sympathizers consoled her again.
She continued: "He also used to pilot a ship from the Apapa jetty to the high seas. He did that for about three years".
Again, she kept quiet . And the expression from her face changed from that of sorrow to anger. She continued in a mixture of anger and sorrowful tone. "But you can imagine how bad is it when his name was not even mentioned when he died. They only mentioned the name of two prominent persons and left out his and the senior pilot's. Is that fair?
At this juncture, her husband, Prince Solomon Sowole, who seemed more composed took over. "We are yet to be officially informed about our son's death. And this was someone that was sent on an official assignment. We only got to hear about his demise from the media.
We are being treated as if our son was a nobody, or as if he fell from heaven. No! He didn't fall from heaven. He had parents who should be treated the way they ought to. Today(yesterday) makes it the fifth day the incident happened and not even the the Navy he worked for, has deemed it right to come to inform us. Aye mi...o", he exclaimed in Yoruba.
"We have culture in this part of the world which must be respected. I am a Yoruba man, who believes things should be done the right way. Let them come and tell me that my son is dead first, that is what we want. Then, we will know what next to do", he said.
The family's claim is not true --CDS
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, yesterday in Lagos, however described as untrue claims by family of Lt Adeyemi Sowole, that their son was not accorded same treatment as other dignities in the plane.
Rather, the CDS said the Military, particularly the Defense Headquarters had given necessary support to the family.
This is just as there were indications that foreign hands could be invited to unravel the mystery surrounding the crashed helicopter.
Ibrahim, countered the claim while speaking with journalists, during a condolence visit at the Ikoyi abode of former National Security Adviser, late General Andrew Azazi, in the company of other Service Chiefs comprising the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika; the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Alex Benden and the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar.
According to him, " the Naval headquarters has responded to that. They have placed adverts and we have given them what ever support that is needed. We have been in touch with the family of the co-pilot. The Defense headquarters in particular is posting adverts here and there. And we have done whatever we feel we owe them. We are already pained as it is", he stated
Describing the late Azazi as a brilliant man who would be missed by all, the CDS said: " All of us have special relationship with him and we will miss him a lot. That is the least I can say.
He was a highly professional man who represented us in very many areas so admirably. Even when he was the NSA, he did the job in a way as if it was an extension of the same institution we all shared. To that extent, it was so simple and a large dose of his personality and good nature helped him deliver in so many grounds.We will miss his counseling and ready smile no matter the situation.
" He presided over the national security of this country when we were most challenged. We can not but acknowledge the role he played while that lasted. And I am quite sure he was a very fulfilled man to the extent possible ".
Asked how far investigation into the cause of the crash had gone, the CDS assured that that those nominated to carry out the investigation were competent hands.
"We have every reason to believe that we have all the expertise to look into the bone and marrow of the issue and advise the nation about the correct position of things."