By Edward Gabkwet
On 26 January 2021, the Nation woke up to the news of a change in military leadership by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR. By sheer providence, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao became one of the deserving beneficiaries of the change as he assumed office as the 21st Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). On his first day in office and after a brief but colourful handing and taking over ceremony, Air Marshal Amao assured Nigerians that under his watch, the NAF alongside the sister services is poised to redouble its effort at providing the support and security necessary for the Nation’s development, whilst discharging its constitutional responsibilities to the Government and law-abiding citizens. He also stated that the NAF under his leadership would leverage credible partnership, while focusing on enhancing professionalism so as to promote performance and motivate initiatives that would create an enabling environment for successful operations. It was immediately evident that Air Marshal Amao’s main strategic thrust hinged on synergizing and partnering with the sister services and other security agencies as well as the generality of stakeholders, towards achieving the NAF goal of maintaining peace, law, and order.
Though the nature of war continues to evolve, regular doctrines embedded in the fundamentals and principles of war have basically remained the same. Thus, the NAF has continued to collaborate with other security agencies in re-examining and re-evaluating the best approaches of tackling current national security challenges. It must be stated that past approaches whereby the NAF focused predominantly on attaining air superiority without adequate commitment to ground troops has not translated strategic advantages to operational consequences. Therefore, in critically applying the principles of war, personnel motivation and inter-service cooperation now stands out as a time-tested doctrine capable of bringing the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) closer to achieving the core mandate of securing the Nation.
Air Marshal Amao is a firm believer in the AFN functioning as an interdependent team of land, sea and air forces, requiring application of closely integrated efforts to accomplish assigned military objectives. He is also of the view that cross domain synergy is ultimately about evolving the understanding of jointness which enables more effective combination and utilization of capabilities of the various Services in joint operating environment. These lines of thought ultimately informed Air Marshal Amao’s raison d’etre to emphasis on ‘jointness’ in his vision for the NAF. Thus, his vision for the NAF seeks, ‘To enhance and sustain critical airpower capabilities required for joint force employment in pursuit of national security imperatives.’ To give bite to the vision, the CAS fashioned out 5 main key drivers which laid emphasis on doctrinal development and application of airpower in joint military operations, purposeful training and human capacity development as well as platforms and equipment serviceability through innovative maintenance methods and logistics support systems. Other areas of emphasis include ensuring a disciplined workforce essential for combat readiness and bolstering troop morale by improving personnel welfare.
Keeping faith with this Vision, the NAF has, in the last 12 months, recorded modest but very significant achievements in the fight against insurgency, terrorism and other forms of criminality in the country. This has been largely facilitated by the acquisition of new platforms, reactivation of existing ones as well as effective, synergistic and collaborative efforts with sister security agencies. The period under review has seen an improvement in cooperation and synergy among the Services which has yielded some tangible but remarkable results. For instance, air strikes at Marte, the Tumbuns on the Lake Tchad and Malam Fatori in the Northeast where several ISWAP terrorists and their followers were eliminated, is a testimony to the renewed vigour and synergy that the NAF and the Nigerian Army (NA) have brought to bear. Recently too, coordinated efforts by the NAF, NA and Department of State Security have led to the elimination of key terrorists and bandits in the Northwest including the notorious Alhaji Auta and Kachalla Ruga, among others. In addition, the NAF Special Forces elements have, in the last 12 months, been reinvigorated and further given advanced training both at home and abroad to confront the current security challenges in the country as they fight side by side with other Services and security agencies in the various Theatres of Operation. Besides supporting joint operations, the NAF has also conducted independent operations to destroy insurgents’ capabilities before they can be brought to bear on own forces. These efforts were geared towards ensuring that remnants of unrepentant terrorist elements are neutralized to ensure peace and stability and enable law abiding citizens to carry out their legitimate aspirations without fear or intimidation.
To ensure a common frame of reference on the most effective approach to airpower employment, the NAF at the instance of the CAS, recently developed 11 new doctrines. The development of the doctrines is in tandem with one of the key drivers of the CAS vision which is, “Focus on doctrinal development and application of airpower in joint military operations.” The doctrines are essentially based on analysis of the contemporary security environment as well as the operational experiences of the Service. Accordingly, all relevant competencies in the NAF are now guided by updated doctrines especially the planning, allocation and sustainment of NAF air efforts.
Under Air Marshal Amao, the NAF has witnessed a tremendous boost to its aircraft holdings across various fleets. In addition to the previously acquired platforms, the NAF has, in 2021 alone, taken delivery of 15 brand new aircraft and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) and have sustained reactivation of hitherto unserviceable platforms to upscale its capabilities in tackling all forms of criminality. The latest additions of 3 JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter aircraft and 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft recently inducted into the NAF Order of Battle are presently deployed in various theatres of operation across the Country to add impetus to the ongoing war against insurgency, armed banditry and other forms of criminality in the country. The acquisitions and reactivation as well as the emplacement of robust logistics support structure have enabled the NAF to raise the serviceability status of operable aircraft from about 35 per cent (35%) in 2015 to about 72 per cent (72%) as at 27 December 2021. The deployment of these platforms for combat has brought some level of sanity and normalcy to previously terrorist/bandits ravaged areas in the Northeast and Northwest.
For the NAF to function efficiently, both as a highly technical Service and a fighting force for the effective defence of Nigeria’s territorial integrity, it must have the right numerical strength and, more importantly, the right quality of manpower in all relevant competencies. Accordingly, the NAF has in the last 12 months, winged 56 pilots and operators who graduated from various pilot courses both at home and abroad. In the same vein, several officers, airmen and airwomen of the NAF are currently undergoing different types of training in various countries including the United States of America, South Africa, India, Belgium, Egypt and Pakistan, amongst others. The NAF has also boosted the capacity of its Regiment and Special Forces with additional training and equipment to improve operations in the fight against insurgency and other forms of criminality. In the last one year, the Service has also enhanced its recruitment drive by graduating additional 1,031 recruits at the Military Training Centre in Kaduna, just as it sent 10 Senior Non-Commissioned Officers of the ranks of Air Warrant Officer and Master Warrant Officer to the United Kingdom for a unique 4-part international pre-retirement training.
The achievements of the CAS as it concerns aircraft engineering are purely aimed at enhancing operational effectiveness. To this end, the Aircraft Engineering Branch made concerted efforts to secure some foreign training slots for NAF engineers. Some of trainings undertaken by the Branch include conduct of in-house aircraft battery maintenance and training at 107 Air Maritime Group, training of 7 aircraft engineers on PT-6A engine rigging for King Air 350 aircraft in the United States of America, training of 5 NAF aircraft engineers on DO-228 aircraft engine rigging in Germany and the conduct of ‘Train the Trainer Course’ for 13 engineers at Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria. Other achievements include the conduct of Master Technician Course at Flight Safety International Wichita, USA, Advance Maintenance training on Mi-35P helicopter by Ukrainian Technical Team at 115 Special Operations Group, Port Harcourt, Conduct of Avionics Components Repair Course at Central Avionics Overhaul and Calibration Centre and NAFTRAC training of 453 aircraft engineering personnel on 13 aircraft types in the NAF. The completion of the courses enhanced the capacity of aircraft maintenance personnel which in turn improved aircraft serviceability status of NAF platforms. These efforts surely enhanced the serviceability of NAF platforms in support and sustenance of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in Operations HADARIN DAJI, THUNDER STRIKE, HADIN KAI and GAMA AIKI among others.
As an outstanding man manager, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao firmly believes that the status of the morale and welfare of NAF personnel now and in the future is critical to operational success. According to him, “You can have all the operational arsenals in the world but without a high morale and enhanced welfare of the end user, it is largely going to be ineffective.” Therefore, as part of his efforts to bolster morale through improved personnel welfare, Air Marshal Amao has in the last one year renovated/remodelled and constructed new blocks of classrooms and hostel accommodation in existing NAF schools across the Country, while engaging in massive construction and renovation of residential accommodation to reduce the accommodation shortages in NAF Bases nationwide. In his determination to improve the poor welfare package of temporary teaching staff in NAF Schools nationwide, which has been left unattended to by successive administrations, Air Marshal Amao recently approved a 50 per cent upward review of salaries of all temporary teachers in NAF primary and secondary schools nationwide. This increment, which is across board for both BSc and NCE certificate holders, has no doubt enhanced the morale of the teachers and improved their standards of living with positive consequences on their teaching outputs. The pupils of AFMS and AFGMS Jos also benefited from Air Marshal Amao’s magnanimity as he approved a 66.67 per cent (66.67%) increase of their feeding ration allowance from N600 to N1,000, a measure which has gone a long way in enhancing their nutrition while enhancing learning.
The key interest of the current administration in providing qualitative education paid off in the course of the year as students of NAF schools such as Air Force Military School, Jos, Air Force Girls Comprehensive School, Abuja, Air Force Secondary Schools, Ikeja and Shasha, Air Force Comprehensive Schools, Yola and Enugu respectively obtained 5 credits including English and Mathematics in the WASC/NECO exams 2020/2021 academic session. Also, Master Edeani Izuchukwu, a student of Air Force Comprehensive School, Agbani, Enugu State emerged winner of the National Science Competitive Examination where he was awarded “774 Young Nigerian Scientists Presidential Award” by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. In the same vein, Miss Feyisola Bolarinwa, a student of Air Force Girls Military School, Jos won the Bronze Award at the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition conducted by the Royal Commonwealth Society.
To enable NAF personnel and those outside the Service the opportunity to channel their complaints and grievances against the Service or its personnel, the CAS during the year established the Office of the Ombudsman and the Directorate of Veterans Affairs (DVA). While the office of the Ombudsman will serve as an independent instrument that will provide an objective and compassionate channel for seeking redress, the DVA will interface with similar structures in sister Services towards harnessing necessary benefits for NAF retirees under existing Federal Government programmes for veterans. In its quest to reduce the huge foreign exchange expended on medical tourism and the challenge of COVID-19 pandemic which has drastically reduced physical contact between patient and doctors, the NAF leadership approved the setting up a NAF Telemedicine portal. The portal bridges the geographical barriers between patient and healthcare provider to access efficient and affordable healthcare services without being physically involved. The West African College of Physicians also granted approval to the NAF to conduct Residency Training Programme for doctors in Family Medicine at the 661 NAF Hospital, Ikeja. The remarkable achievement came 18 years after the Hospital was granted approval to train house officers by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. With this, the Hospital becomes the first and only hospital in the NAF accredited to train postgraduate medical doctors. It is gratifying to also state that the laboratory of the same Hospital equally won an award of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 15189:2012 accreditation certificate for quality management systems and excellent service delivery.
The NAF, in the last one year, has invested substantially in R&D to develop unprecedented capacity to surmount current and emerging security challenges while also enhancing its operational viability. These breakthroughs were realized through the Air Force Research and Development Centre. Some of the breakthroughs included the refurbishment of unserviceable rocket launchers and BMGs back loaded from operations, test firing of locally produced 18-tube rocket launchers for A-jet aircraft and the production and deployment of 30.1mm rocket to 271 NAF Detachment Birnin-Gwari for operational usage. Others are the adaptation of 6-tube 68mm SNEB Rocket launcher on Agusta 109 Power Helicopter for improved fire power, reconfiguration of non-compatible DEFA Gun electrical flanges, installation of Geisha 23mm pintle mount with electrical firing system and the conversion of PUS 38DM to intervalometer.
Realising that the availability of key infrastructures such as accommodation, roads and water in NAF Bases nationwide enhances morale of troops which have positive implications on NAF operational output, Air Marshal Amao have ensured that he pays special attention to the provision of basic needs in all NAF bases. In the last 12 months for instance, over 15.41 kilometres of roads have been rehabilitated in NAF bases across the country. Some of these include the rehabilitation of selected road networks and asphalt resurfacing of 1600m road network at NAF Bases in Makurdi and Lagos, the rehabilitation of 781m link road from Officer’s Quarters to NAFOM at NAF Base Kaduna. The period also witnessed the construction of new road networks such as the flexible road from Bauchi Road to flight line at NAF Base Gombe, construction of link road from Headquarters Air Component to old runway and taxiway at 105 Composite Group Maiduguri and construction of 1 km flexible road at AFRDC Osogbo. Others are the construction of additional link road to Military Apron at NAFBase Gombe and construction of link road to Hangar at NAF Base Bauchi. In total about 7.5Km of new roads were constructed. These efforts are aside the over 100 blocks of different types of living accommodation at various levels of completion in NAF Bases nationwide.
Air Marshal Amao also approved the implementation of the NAF paperless process automation solution. This initiative which is currently at an advanced stage and the first of its kind in the entire AFN, became necessary having observed NAF’s overdependence on paper in its daily correspondences, which has negative environmental impact and makes it tedious to retrieve or track down specific documents. With the implementation of the paperless solution, less time will be spent on clerical work while reducing paper consumption, helping the environment, and speeding up document processing.
In view of the aforementioned milestones, one is not left in doubt of Air Marshal Oladayo’s unbounded sense of duty and commitment to the growth and development of the NAF. Indeed, his passion for the NAF resonates with the words of Larry Smith who averred that,“When you feel passionate about your work, you do not set rigid boundaries between work time and personal time, because the work itself is personal.” It should also be stated that Air Marshal Amao is committed to transforming the NAF into a model fighting force that will operate seamlessly with the sister Services and other security agencies to ensure security, stability, and prosperity of the nation. Nigerians can therefore be rest assured that the NAF will continue to aim at higher standards of operational excellence and combat readiness in carrying out its statutory roles as assigned by the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari.
Gabkwet, an Air Commodore and Spokesperson of the Nigerian Air Force, sent this from Abuja.