Nigeria's top-ranking army commander Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru and other top military officers were killed on Friday evening when their plane crashed in bad weather near Kaduna International Airport in the country’s north, officials said.
Other top officials who perished in the crash include Brigadier General M. Abdulkadir, Brigadier General S. Olayinka and Brigadier General A. Kuliya.
Chief of Army Staff Attahiru was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in January as part of a shakeup of the top military command to better fight surging violence and a more than decade-long jihadist insurgency.
The military plane was initially scheduled to land at the Nigerian Air Force base, but was diverted to the Kaduna Airport due to bad weather.
The NAF had earlier said eight passengers were aboard the ill-fated plight.
NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Mr Edward Gabkwet, said, “The immediate cause of the crash is still being ascertained.”
The military cordoned off the crash site on Friday.
President Buhari condoled with families of the deceased and the military, describing the deceased as “heroes who paid the ultimate price for peace and security in the land.”
The President said the crash “is one mortal blow to our underbelly, at a time our armed forces are poised to end the security challenges facing the country.”
Born in Doka in Kaduna North local government, 55-year-old Attahiru was appointed as Chief of Army Staff on January 26, 2021.
He is a graduate of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji and Nigerian Army School of Infantry.
He commenced cadet training in January 1984 and was commissioned into the rank of Second Lieutenant in December 1986 as an Infantry Officer.
He holds a Masters degree in Strategic Management and Policy Studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy.
Mr Yahaya Bello, the Governor of Kogi State in north central Nigeria, described Attahiru as a hero who gave everything to the service of his country and died while attending to his duties.
He said Attahiru’s death as a great loss to Nigeria at a time the country is confronting numerous insecurity challenges.
Nigeria's military has been battling an Islamist insurgency in the northeast since 2009, a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 and displaced around two million more.
Attahiru had once been in charge of leading the frontline offensive against Nigeria's Boko Haram jihadist leader Abubakar Shekau in the northeast in 2017.
Attahiru died as news also emerged that Shekau had himself been seriously wounded or possibly killed after clashes with a rival Islamic State-allied faction.
Local intelligence sources said Shekau had been seriously wounded this week when IS-allied rival jihadists attacked his stronghold in the Sambisa forest in the northeastern state of Borno.
Sources said Shekau was wounded when he shot himself to try to evade capture after militants from the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) surrounded him following a series of battles between the rival groups.
- Additional reporting by AFP