REMINISCENCES: A NIGERIAN AIR FORCE ECOMOG VETERAN’S NARRATIVE ON THE TAKEOVER OF SIERRA LEONE’S STRATEGIC LUNGI AIRPORT

Nigerian ECOMOG troop reinforcements disembark from a NAF C130 at Lungi, Sierra Leone, 28 May 1997

Nigerian ECOMOG troop reinforcements arrive at Lungi International Airport in Freetown on May 28, 1997 in a Nigerian Air Force Hercules cargo plane shuttling troops, ammunition and supplies following the military coup in Sierra Leone

ECOMOG REMINISCENCES: ‘I outwitted coup leader’s forces to drop troops in Sierra Leone’ – AVM(rtd) Lucky Ararile

VANGUARD
July 28, 2013
BENIN

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.

Excerpts:

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.

(Beegeagle’s addendum)

* 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.

About beegeagle

BEEG EAGLE -perspectives of an opinionated Nigerian male with a keen interest in Geopolitics, Defence and Strategic Studies
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16 Responses to REMINISCENCES: A NIGERIAN AIR FORCE ECOMOG VETERAN’S NARRATIVE ON THE TAKEOVER OF SIERRA LEONE’S STRATEGIC LUNGI AIRPORT

  1. peccavi says:

    Fascinating account. What unit was the then Col Kwaskebe at the time?

    • beegeagle says:

      This gladdens the heart for real and in manpower terms, represents the most significant gain entailed in long years of democratic governance.

      When I posted the photo of Major Generals Awala and Ayoola a few days ago, I said the same thing to myself in realisation of the fact that both men signed up for service in the late 1970s and none of them is anywhere near 60 as we speak.

      Way back in 1990 when entire generations of officers (Major Generals and equivalent) who had enlisted between 1962 and 1964 were forced into early retirement, they had only put in 26-28 years of service, three-quarters of them had not attained the age of 50. It was at that time that the likes of Paul Omu, Charleds Ndiomu, Gado Nasko, Ahmadu Rimi, Abdullahi Mamman, Ike Nwachukwu, Sani Sami, Duro Ajayi, Lai Yusuf, Sunny Ifere, Mamman Kontagora, Rabiu Aliyu etc from the Army; Promise Fingesi, Olu Omotehinwa, Ndubuisi Kanu, Steven Aloko etc from the Navy and Bayo Lawal, Ishaya Shekari, Anthony Okpere, Hamza Abdullahi, Usman Natiti, Umaru Abbas etc all retired from the Nigerian military.

      On account of the post-independence Nigerianisation exercise, many of them had gained rapid promotions during the pre-1966 period as they got fast-tracked in a bid to replace exiting British officers.

      Again, after officers of Eastern Nigerian origin left to form the Biafran Army in 1967, more rapid promotions took place to enable the right fit between rank and command to be attained. That was the day of Captains serving as Battalion COs. That generation of officers rose fast and also retired early.

      Since 1999, we have witnessed a steady increase in the number of Generals serving for 35 years or longer. That has meant keeping many more crucially experienced hands to guide the military through this turbulent phase of our nationhood where the threats posed by insurgency and terrorism are realities of our daily existence.

      How gladdening it is to still be able to deploy the services of ECOMOG-era Lt.Colonels who played critical roles during the wars in West Africa such as Major General Kwaskebe and Brigadier General Olukolade. Heartwarming indeed.

      And the experience profile continues to be piled on. Personally, I know quite a few serving Lt Colonels in the 38-43 year age bracket who were Lieutenants way back in turbulent 1997-2000 epoch in Sierra Leone, some of them now Commanding Officers who shall be in uniform for another 15-20 years and haven since come through the Gunboat War in the Niger Delta, the Bakassi Conflict and the Boko Haram Insurgency, are operationally seasoned beyond their comparatively youthful years.

      The future is bright for the military’s prospects of defending our country from internal and external threats, I dare say.

  2. bigbrovar says:

    “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.” That statement sums up one of the major way of thinking of our armed forces which really has to change. That such a beautiful story or valor, bravery and competence was kept untold makes you wonder how many other stories of our armed forces are untold. If this was another nation (looking at the US) a block buster would have been made to immortalize this event. It’s really sad that such a story and many more of it kind will remind hidden and the sacrifices made untold 😦

    • beegeagle says:

      For all we know, the C130 above was precisely the one which the NAF general piloted. Surely, this was one of the series of insertions which he was involved in at Lungi.

      The sheer coincidence of having the photos handy…

  3. doziex says:

    Interesting. Bit by bit these accounts of ecomog exploits and sacrifice are being revealed.

    Way to slowly, for us on this blog. though.

    I have tried on a number of occasions, piece together the battles between NA and SLA that this gallant air force pilot spoke off.

    The battles to secure lungi airport and it’s environs included mi-24 and mi-17 helicopters on the SLA side. in addition to BMPs, and some Tanks.

    So the insertion of company size reinforcements to turn around this dire situation was remarkable to say the least.
    SO, WHY CAN’T NA MAKE IT IT’s BUSINESS TO TELL THESE STORIES ????

  4. Why cant any of the retired soldiers who were part of these operations write up their memiors…If we have such then Nollywood can pick it up an do a movie on it…@ least it would be a change from the juju dey normally show us

  5. Tunde Olayinka says:

    Very well said & written by the first commentator & Gen Beegeagle.

    From reading this blog, I realise there are great prospects for authors & military historians from the diverse operational experience of seasoned officers of the Nigerian armed forces.

    These war experiences ought to be compiled into, in the minimum, literary works for record, pleasure and for inspirational purposes not only for the military but for all Nigerians in general.

    We should be able to read about & watch documentaries of the exploits of Nigerian officers in service of fatherland both home and abroad the same way we do about Gen Patton, Rommel, Montgomery, Bock, Collin Powel, and that of many other contemporary military officers world wide.

    Their skills, experiences, strategies, thinking pattern, rationality, war time composure and even their errors ought to be compiled to serve as a platform of learning for the newer generation.

    They have paid a great price and have done valiantly. We must make it a duty to ensure that their deeds and their names are remembered forever.

  6. beegeagle says:

    Indeed, BigBrovar, it boggles the mind. Look how modestly he goes on about the status of anonymity which has characterised some of the key players in the events of those days. For TEN YEARS on the trot (1990-2000), tens of thousands of troops were rotated on combat operations through Liberia and Sierra Leone – Lieutenants and Colonels, Captains and Generals, Flt Lts and Group Capts, Lt Commanders and Captains, Lance Corporals and Staff Sgts, Lance Bombardiers and Warrant Officers.

    As we speak – and one has read more war memoirs written by Nigerian officers, I have yet to read ONE on the ECOMOG operations despite the fact of thousands of officers having seen action during a decade of ECOMOG operations. Some of the star performers have since died – Brig Generals MM Khobe and UJ Uwuigbe for instance – taken the records of their heroics to the grave.

    In my own small way, we have tried to keep the memory of fallen ECOMOG heroes alive. Those who know how much of a watershed moment the takeover of Lungi and the subsequent advance on Freetown was, would be surprised to learn that the arrowhead, namely Amnon Kwaskebe, in what was for our troops in Sierra Leone an airborne and seaborne insertion as significant as the landing on Normandy Beach was to the Allied forces advancing on France, has remained an unheralded hero. Infact, I had not heard about the man until he became a Brigade Commander a few years ago! Surely, we should celebrate people while they are still alive.

    That is the reason why we have tried to keep the flame of the ECOMOG operations aglow. As for the combat sorties flown by the NAF on a hitherto untested airframe, that similarly got glossed over until we shed light on the heroics of A-Jet pilots who used even dive bombing tactics in non-optimised airframes to achieve their tasks.

    ECOMOG AIR OPERATIONS

    https://beegeagle.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/ecomog-air-operations-during-the-liberian-civil-war-a-brief-overview/

    https://beegeagle.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/blog-exclusive-ecomog-air-operationsii-a-closer-look-at-the-phases-and-statistics/

    ECOMOG WAR STORIES

    https://beegeagle.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/ecomog-war-stories-nigerian-military-take-freetown-plus-other-engagements/

    BATTLE OF FREETOWN

    https://beegeagle.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/ecomog-recorded-account-the-battle-of-freetown/

    HANGING OUT WITH ECOMOG VETERANS

    https://beegeagle.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/hanging-out-with-nigerian-ecomog-veterans/

    https://beegeagle.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/hanging-out-with-ecomog-veterans-pt-ii-a-foot-soldiers-story/

  7. beegeagle says:

    Because we believe in what our ECOMOG soldiers fought and sometimes died for, we shall not relent in spotlighting their heroics.

    Here is one of the Young Turks from the ECOMOG era who is now deservedly a Commanding Officer of a Nigerian Army Battalion, Lt Colonel Alechenu.

    Today's Lt.Colonel Alechenu as a warrior Lieutenant in Sierra Leone, fifteen years ago

    Today’s Lt.Colonel Alechenu as a warrior Lieutenant in Sierra Leone, fifteen years ago

    The photo above, taken during the Battle of Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown(May 1997) shows a young Lieutenant Alechenu in the heat of battle, sans a flak jacket and with the old ‘Octopus’ mascot (current mascot is the ‘Rhino’) of the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps embossed on his shirt sleeve.

  8. jimmy says:

    AMEN the transformation for people like myself and Oga Doziex is truly personal today .I can honestly say based on my extended family’s experience till now merit plays a crucial role in Army/Navy/Air force PROMOTIONS. My first cousin’s husband went through HARROWING experiences in as a junior officer in Sierra Leone ( this was also compounded by the fact at the time that both his mother in law and father in law were living in Sierra Leone! ). A year ago he was promoted to a one star General.
    It also fills me with pride now when A Nigerian General in any photo shoot with an American or his British counterpart they are within the same age range and in some instances have just as much combat experience if not even more than their American/ British counterpart.and you can tell the respect they( the world) has for our senior officer – forget the knuckle heads of the left wing nuts and the H.R.W.

  9. Deltaman says:

    SL conflict needs to be spoken about by NA, been to Freetown, our brothers over there are grateful, yet we don’t have the details … good and bad. Followed the conflict in the late 90’s as ECOMOG got pushed back into Lungi during the RUF ‘Tet’ type offensive … I remember images of NA troops on the counter offensive on a nascent web, was really proud to be a Nigerian, never afraid to put up a fight even as the world was killing us with sanctions. We need to know the details of both conflicts – Liberia and SL. We made a difference!

    • Bigbrovar says:

      How many even know that Nigerian Army personal ran a self funded hospital in Liberia which turned out to be one of the best in the country during and even after the war. The hospital was fully stocked with medicine and had military doctors to attend to patients. Many liberians usually travel for miles just to use the hospital and it did make a big difference in their lives.

      One would imagine the Army would tell this story more to counter the detractors who like to portray our service men as rapist, looters and trigger happy. Unfortunately such a noble hospital, funded hospital from soldiers allowance never got talked about. I heard about it from a BBC documentary. How many other stories of bravery and valour remind untold? MOD really needs to reconsider how we can start to shape the narrative.

    • beegeagle says:

      Ol’boy, thanks for the alert which you posted on the AFIT Robot thread. We were thinking together apparently because I was writing the addendum above when you posted and thereafter we continued to build up this thread without knowing that you had offered a hyperlink to the story at about the same time.

      Many thanks, buddy.

  10. Akin Oges says:

    The story of a certain fearless hero “Khobe” was first told to me for the first time by my Sierra Leonean work colleague one cold winter morning; from the moment the gist ended curiosity gnawed away at my mind; I got digging for more details; that digging brought me to the Beegeagle family. We must tell our stories, if we don’t, the hard earned field experience(s) that can help the system to improve will be lost forever to our collective lose. You can improve and be better if know what was done well or what could have been done differently before you showed up.

  11. toks says:

    you are doing wonderful things

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