ECOMOG REMINISCENCES: ‘I outwitted coup leader’s forces to drop troops in Sierra Leone’ – AVM(rtd) Lucky Ararile
July 28, 2013
AIR VICE MARSHAL LUCKY ARARILE(rtd)is the Owie of Abraka Kingdom in Ethiope East Local Government Area of
Delta State. In this interview, the former
Nigerian Air Force (NAF) pilot speaks on
his life as a traditional ruler, his involvement in internal and external
operations including ECOWAS Monitoring
Group in Sierra Leone and Liberia, among others. He also speaks on the Amnesty Programme to Niger Delta militants which he coordinated at inception.
Vanguard: How have you been coping with life after disengagement from the military?
Ararile: It has been quite an experience and challenging. It demands different
approaches and competencies in dealing with human beings.
Vanguard: Let’s look at the regimental life. How was it?
Ararile: I served for over 35 years, from the age of 20 years. So a very substantial part of my life was spent in the military. I went to the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) for the basic military training and thereafter went to flying training schools including those of the Royal Air Force as well as the United States Air Force.
Subsequently, I participated in military operations within and outside the country. I participated in the OAU peacekeeping operations in Chad in 1980, ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1990 to 2000 among others. Internally, I was involved in the Joint Task Force, Operation Restore Hope in the Niger Delta and then the amnesty programme… So it was a very busy engagement while it lasted.
Vanguard: Can you recall some of those memorable moments while serving in the Nigerian Air Force?
Ararile: Easily the most memorable experience for me was the operation to insert Nigerian troops in Lungi airport to counter the coup by Major Johny Koroma in Sierra Leone. It fell on me to take the Air Force C130 airplane, with a crew of nine, to airlift some troops from Liberia to Lungi.
At the time of the coup,only the Air Force
had about 30 men on ground. We had
moved our warplanes to Guinea
immediately the coup was announced.We used to operate from Sierra Leone to Liberia. The situation on ground was dire.The Air Force personnel was low on
ammunition, food and other supplies.
The Sierra Leonean Army occupied the
southern end of the airport including part of the runway while the Nigerian Air Force personnel occupied the northern end. As a result, we had to use half of the runway that was occupied by our troops; landing and taking off in opposite directions in order not to overfly Sierra Leonean positions. We deceived the Sierra Leonean Army into believing we had authority from Major Koroma to land at the Lungi airport.
By the time they realised what we were
up to, we had inserted a company of
troops led by then Lt. Col. Kwaskebe * with two MOWAG armoured fighting vehicles, four jeeps and enough ammunition and food to sustain operations for two weeks. The same night we completed the mission, the Sierra Leonean Army attacked our troops. Their barracks by the airport was overrun by our soldiers and the airport was secured for subsequent operations by Brigadier General Khobe.
Without that airlift by the Air Force, it
would have been impossible to overthrow Major Johny Koroma. I was happy to have participated in that operation.
Vanguard: If you look at your role at that point you were a game changer, will you say that you are happy today?
Ararile: Yes I am happy about our contribution, even though it was unrecognized. It is not in the nature of the Air Force or indeed the military to advertise the roles they play, but we all have our stories to tell.
Vanguard: Let us come back to Liberia. Tell us all that really happened. Reports had it that many Nigerian soldiers died. And can you tell us what really happened to Samuel Doe before Nigeria took over?
Ararile: I was a pilot. I flew in from Nigeria; sometimes I spent a week or more in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, depending on the nature of operation but I was not directly involved in the operation carried out by the army on ground. So, those who were responsible for physical security and the fighting on ground will avail you with the facts more than me. I am aware of what happened, but I cannot be categorical.
* Since that 1997 insertion and seizure of Lungi Airport by gallant Nigerian ECOMOG troops, Lt Colonel Amnon Kalayi Kwaskebe has risen to the command of the 34 Field Artillery Brigade stationed at Owerri whilst on the rank of Brigadier General and has subsequently attained the rank of Major General and is the incumbent Commander of the Nigerian Army Corps of Artillery.
On July 6th, 2013 General Kwaskebe was a recipient of the Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation Award for Innovation, presented to him by President Goodluck Jonathan.