On September 17, 2006, Nigeria was hit by a major tragedy when an 18-seater Dornier 228 Air Force transport plane, carrying 15 senior army officers and three crew members crashed, leaving only three survivors with serious injuries. DAVID ADUGE-ANI reports that 10 years after the incident, some widows of the late Generals are yet to receive in full, the benefits for their husbands.
It was a memorable day when on Saturday September 17, 2016, widows of the 13 Army generals who died on September 17, 2006 converged in the popular Command Officers Mess, Asokoro-Abuja for an inter-faith memorial service to mark 10 years since the cold hands of death took their husbands. The military officers were on their way to Obudu cattle ranch to attend a retreat on how to transform the Nigerian Army when the ill-fated plane, a Dornier 228-212, crashed at Oko village in Vandekiya local government area of Benue State, killing 13 of them.
The 13 army officers and Air Force officers who died in the crash include Major-Generals J.O. Adesunloye, SO Otubu, Agboola, SM Lemu, Nuhu Bamali, PM Haruna, JTU Amedu and Bitrus Duniya. Others were Brigadier-Generals Braimah, MB Bawa, Wing Commanders SS Balogun, EO Adekunle and Lieutenant-Colonel NA Mohammed.
Widow of Late Major General SM Lemu, Dr Aisha Salihu Lemu, told LEADERSHIP Weekend: “Today 17th of September makes it 10 years that our husbands died. So we have decided to come together and pray together and to interact with other widows, in the Armed Forces, Navy, Air Force and Police and also to encourage them by our own experiences. This is because we felt that it is only a widow that knows the pains of a widow.
“So, we want to interact with them, talk to them and advise them and then give them what we have. We are widows too, but we want to touch others too in our own little way and to tell them that a widow can stand and become a better person. We thank God, because we are all women of faith. In our faith and in our believe in God almighty, who has kept us together, we have been doing very well by His grace and by His special grace too, our children have been doing very well too,” she added.
Mrs Oluwayemisi Balogun, wife of the pilot of the ill-fated plane, Wing Commander SS Balogun told our reporter: “It has been 10 years that our husbands departed without saying farewell. When it happened 10 years ago, we thought that the whole world was going to collapse on us, but God has been so faithful and so good to us.”
But how have some of these widows, along with their children been coping with life since this unfortunate incident. Jumai-Jewel Idayi, one of the daughters of Late Major General Peter Haruna said that life has not been easy for the family since the death of their father. “I can say that the death of our father was a trial, more or less. We have faced a very tumultuous years since the incident, because it was tough for my mother for myself and all the other siblings, but God has been faithful to us in these 10 years”, she noted.
She regretted that the Army where her father served and the government of the day have not done much to help the family in their sorrow. “At the time my dad died, I had four siblings in school and up till today, nobody paid their school fees. They were all in school then, but I thank God that they all have rounded up their schools after my father died. As we speak, I can tell you that there was no government or even the army that paid school fees for anybody of us,” she said.
She continued: “I remembered that there was a season they sent some packages to widows, including my mother, but aside from that I cannot really say the government is really there for us. I must tell you the truth. It is by the grace of God and of course, supports from family friends that carried us up to this point.”
Mrs. Balogun told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the government, as at that time, was not fair to them, knowing full well that their husbands died as heroes. “I must tell you, if we are to live by what the government promised us then, we won’t even be where we are today. The government at the time the incident happened did not really do well, because our husbands died in service as heroes. So we expected something better from the government.
Even the school fees they promised to be paying for our children was not actually what we are getting, because as people who died as heroes, we the families expected that better education school fees should be given to our children.
But as at today, what I am getting from the Army as school fees for my three children cannot even pay for one child’s education, per term. We expected that our children should be better taken care of, educationally. If I tell you what we are being given for the education of my children, you will be shocked. It is just a peanut,” she said.
For Mrs Elizabeth Metuo Haruna, widow of Late Major General Peter Haruna, said it has been management all through to train the children after the incident. “It is only God that did it, but the legacies my husband left behind are what make me happy.”
Dr. Lemu said: “I believe that whatever the army gives to the families is something good, because no matter how little, it is money they give. And I think they have this insurance policy which was introduced in 2006. So, all widows from 2006 till date can benefit from that policy.”
However, Mrs. Amedu, wife of Late Major General JTU Amedu told LEADERSHIP Weekend: “I believe that the Army has been trying since the demise of our husbands, because they take care of us, based on the provisions of the Army welfare scheme. Those widows who are complaining about payment should also realise that their late husbands also had friends in the Army who also assist them. We should stop complaining and give thanks to God for everything.”