Nigeria army chief, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru, and other military officers died in a plane crash Friday (May 21) on an official visit to the northern state of Kaduna, the presidency said.
The incident occurred “due to inclement weather” as the plane was landing at the Kaduna International Airport, the armed forces said in a statement.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general first elected in 2015, described the crash as a “mortal blow … at a time our armed forces are poised to end the security challenges facing the country.”
Buhari appointed Attahiru, 54, alongside other military chiefs in January, as part of a shake-up of the top military command to better fight surging violence.
Nigeria has been facing insurgencies from armed group Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), as well as separatist Indigenous People of Biafra group (IPOB).
The decade-long insurgency is estimated to have displaced about 2 million people and killed more than 40,000. Additionally, security forces are struggling to respond to kidnappings and other security threats by well-organized groups of bandits.
Attahiru died as reports emerged that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had been seriously wounded or possibly killed after clashes with a rival faction. The Boko Haram leader has been reported killed several times since the conflict began, only to reappear later.
“He was buried in the night in an unmarked grave to avoid exhumation by either the Nigerian military or rival jihadists,” the local intelligence source said.
Friday’s crash comes three months to the day after a small Nigerian military plane crashed short of a runway in the capital Abuja, following alleged engine failure, killing all seven people on board.
“The immediate cause of the crash is still being ascertained,” Edward Gabkwet, an air force spokesman, said of the latest incident.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP