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03.04.2021 stories ANALYSIS: Boko Haram May be Getting Undeserved Credit for NAF’s Alpha Jet Crash

Published 3rd Apr, 2021

By FIJ

A look at the video making the rounds online as proof that the Boko Haram faction loyal to Abubakar Shekau shot down NAF 475 reveals deliberate digital alteration. Frame-to-Frame analysis indicates splices/transitions between the original clips that make up the video.

Even if the footages were real, the explosion-first sequence confirms that the video is a string of carefully-wedged clips. While an aircraft hit by a missile can continue its movement before exploding as the case was when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in 2015, an aircraft cannot possibly continue movement to the extent shown in the video after explosion.

The explosion, as seen in the video, happened immediately the jet was attacked (although nothing shows what exactly caused it). The jet had disappeared into white smoke, followed by massive explosion which seemed to tear the aircraft into shreds. One may ask where the burning aircraft running in the air with a trail of black smoke emerged from.

A military officer told FIJ it is almost practically impossible to bring down an Alpha Jet with a Rockt popelled Grende (RPG) as suggested in the video. RPG is an anti-tank grenade launcher specifically made to attack armoured tanks. The most commonly used RPG-7 is most effective, at not more than a sight range of 300m. While an RPG is more effective at zero degree, an Alpha Jet can fly several kilometers above sea level.

NOT THE FIRST ALPHA JET CRASH

In 2013, a Nigerian military Alpha Jet on a normal routine flight crashed at about 60km west of Niamey, Niger, killing the two officials on board. The aircraft had been deployed to take part in an operation against al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali. According to a Niger Security official who spoke with Voice of America, the jet was not shot at as it was not in the enemy’s territory.

Another Alpha Jet, NAF 466, was also declared missing in September 2014. The wreck of the aircraft, which went out of radar contact during routine operations in Adamawa State, was reportedly found in a river in Demsa Local Government Area of the State several weeks after NAF announced its disappearance.  

A LOCALLY CONFIGURED AND OVERBURDENED AIRCRAFT

Alpha Jet 475 is one of the three fighter jets procured from the US in 2015. Contrary to what many may think, they weren’t new aircraft at the time. Originally manufactured in Germany, the alpha jets were acquired secondhand by the Nigerian government after they had been put to a phase of use by Air US Inc, an American contractor that specializes in air combat readiness training. According to Defence Web, the US acquired them after they were originally flown by Flutterwave, the air defense component of the German Armed Forces.

Being training aircraft, they could not be deployed for operations on arrival to Nigeria. NAF then approached some foreign companies to configure them for combat. According to Sadique Abubakar, the then Chief of Air Staff, one of the companies demanded up to N25million for initial assessment of the aircraft prior to configuration. To save what NAF thought was an outrageous cost, it deployed, for the first time in its history, local military and civilian engineers to upgrade the jets, and they did with just N400,000.

Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, the then NAF spokesperson, praised the local engineers for saving foreign exchange by upgrading the aircraft with so little as against the $20,000 to $30,000 demanded by foreign companies.

“This feat is a major research and development breakthrough for the NAF and the nation as a huge foreign exchange saver, given the project only cost about N400,000 [$2,000],” Ayodele was quoted to have said.

Sadique Abubakar applauded the engineers for adapting the jets to carry things that “they were ordinarily not supposed to carry”. This is a pointer to what may have caused the NAF 475 crash. The jet, which may not have been properly configured considering the amount involved, was most likely overburdened.

POORLY MAINTAINED JETS

The question of maintenance becomes more salient when one puts in the picture a very similar event that happened less than two months ago. In February, a military aircraft crashed short of a runway in Abuja after reporting engine failure, killing all seven men on board. Several military aircraft have also crashed under similar circumstances in previous years.

The Air Force, like every other public institution, is not a corruption-free entity and some of the top ranking officers may have been diverting funds meant for maintenance. Just recently, EFCC secured the conviction of a former NAF chief, Alkali Mamu, for fraud.

The Alpha Jets procured earlier were reportedly grounded before they were made airworthy again in the heat of the battle against Boko Haram. Can Nigerians trust that NAF aircraft have enjoyed proper maintenance since then?

Boko Haram is in a hurry to prove, with the latest jet crash, that it has become far more sophisticated. Nigerians are also in a hurry to give it all the credit. But it may just not deserve it. This jet could have crashed without shot from anyone, much less Boko Haram.

Published 3rd Apr, 2021

By FIJ

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