A former Chief of Administration at the Nigerian Air Force headquarters, Air Vice Marshal Mohammed Alkali Mamu yesterday told an FCT High Court how foreign mercenary pilots were engaged to combat Boko Haram terrorists, disguised as instructors.
Led in evidence by his counsel, Chief Joseph Daudu (SAN) in a four-count charge bordering on bribery brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mamu said the office of the National Security Adviser decided to assist the Nigerian Air Force by engaging these mercenaries due to “the terrible performance of our armed forces at the height of the war against Boko Haram towards the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2014.”
“I was in Ukraine when this covert and sensitive military assignment was given to one Hima Abubakar of Societe D’Equipments Internationaux Nigeria Limited (the company EFCC said he received the bribe from) by the NSA. Abubakar identified three mercenary fighter pilots, soldiers of fortune and veterans of many wars willing to take up this job,” he said.
Mamu said he was ordered by the then Chief of Air Staff to liaise with Abubakar to facilitate the medical examination and process entry visas into Nigeria for the three Ukrainian mercenary pilots that were coming to fly the MI35P helicopters. He added that due to the undercover nature of the assignments, transactions and documentation were mainly “in pseudo or disguised form, including monies and properties which form part of this charge against me.”
“My Lord, these are matters that will expose Nigeria’s contravention of the United Nation’s Charter of armed conflicts especially Resolution 44/34,” he said.
The judge, Justice Salisu Garba, at this point, asked the EFCC counsel, Sylvanus Tahir if he still wanted the trial to continue in open court due to the sensitive nature of the evidence as it regards to national security. But the judge said the evidence could go ahead in open court.
Mamu added that his evidence may also expose diplomats and foreign nationals that came to the assistance of Nigeria and may lead to their criminal prosecution for war crimes-related offences. “It may also lead to sanctions against Nigeria, including embargoes on sales of arms. It is for these reasons the court was being pleaded with to continue in the chamber,” he said, before adding that the introduction of the mercenaries was a game-changer for the NAF.
Mamu said with the introduction of the mercenaries, the Nigerian Air Force was able to commence night bombardments of Boko Haram with devastating effect. “Sadly, nearly three months after, one of the Ukrainian fighter pilots, Captain Chup Vasyl crashed while on night combat and died. I was ordered by the Chief of Air Staff to inform Abubakar and there was the need to make payment to the family of the late pilot as the insurance cover was not fully processed at the time of the accident. I consequently wired the sum of $100,000 to the family of late Cpt Vasyl,” he said.
Mamu said he was also ordered by the Chief of Air Staff to get permission from the family of the late Cpt Vasyl for the remains to be cremated, as there was practically nothing left. He added that with the permission of the family gotten, and in view of the sensitive nature of the cause of death, “the leadership of the NAF obtained a certificate of death and classified the cause of death as a result of a car crash.”
Mamu said he was again ordered by the Chief of Air Staff to contact the Ukrainian embassy in Abuja and he presented the certificate of death at the embassy. “We were later invited by the Ukrainian acting ambassador, Mr. Mycolo Salastov to a ceremony to pay last respects to the late Captain Vasyl. The remains were placed in a small box and sealed diplomatically by the acting ambassador,” he said. He added that the Chief of Air Staff thereafter ordered him to move the two surviving pilots traumatised by the death of their colleague from the war zone in the North East to Abuja before their departure to Ukraine.
The trial continues, with further evidence, on November 6th.