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Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Shattered Dreams of Two Young Pilots

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Chiemelie Ezeobi

Flying Officer Ayuba Joab Layelmenson, joined the military as a rookie in 2004 with high hopes and great expectations. He had the zeal and passion as well as sheer brilliance to boot. His biggest dream was to fly planes for the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and in essence his country, Nigeria.

With such focus, the young Gombe-born Ayuba who was in the 2004 set of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Zaria, Kaduna, got to the institution and enmeshed himself in his studies. He had little time for unnecessary fun or laxity, although he wasn't rigid. His easy-going nature belied his determination to fly for his motherland.

Back at the NDA, he was known for his quiet and studious ways. After the first semester exams, his diligence was glaring in the grades he made. They soon opened doors for him. Based on his performance, he was selected to travel to Greece to study as an air force pilot. His joy knew no bounds as he was on the way to fulfilling his dream.

THISDAY was made to understand that Layelmenson was picked based on his excellent performance in school and was sent to Greece in 2005 to study at the Hellenic Air Force Academy (HAFA) where he studied to become a pilot and graduated in 2011. Yet, he had initially planned to become a micro-surgeon in the Nigerian Navy.

After his graduation, he came back to Nigeria and was posted to his Area of Responsibility (AOR) at 301 Flying Training School and was later deployed to the Aircraft Fighter Unit, Kainji, Niger State, where he was said to have, again, showed his brilliance and academic commitment. He was the NAF’s youngest T-wing fighter pilot. It was not surprising that when the Mali intervention started, he was among those nominated to maintain peace in the war-torn country.

Although he was a peace-loving person, Layelmenson was only too happy to do what he loved to do best: fly. In preparation for the trip, alongside others from the Nigerian contingent, they were taken to Adamawa for training after which they were deployed to Mali.
Their aerial surveillance, it was disclosed by defence sources, was not the first in Mali but one of the countless ones they had carried out in order to get an aerial view of what was going on, on land.

But alas, Layelmenson's dream was snuffed out on Monday, May 7, alongside his superior officer, Squadron Leader Benjamin Bem Ado, during one of such operations in the Nigerien sky. And that closed the chapter on a career that had offered so much promise, so much excitement and so much hope.

The deceased who’s favourite quote was: “Peace is not the absence of war, rather it's a virtue, a state of mind and a disposition of benevolence and love”, died two months before his birthday on August 18. He was just 25.

Squadron Leader Ado was no different. He enrolled in the NAF, popularly referred to amongst the sister services as the gentleman's force, and rose through the ranks till he got to the rank of squadron leader. He was from Benue State.

Ado was a treasurer of knowledge and did not hesitate to share it with those in need of it. He was seen as a mentor by several young rising officers who did not hesitate to tap from his well of knowledge.

Therefore, not surprisingly, those who spoke to THISDAY from the armed forces had fond words, memories and remarks for the fallen heroes. They were both described as easy going, quiet and collected.

In an emotion-laden voice, Flying Officer Layelmeson's former roommate at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), who spoke under the condition of anonymity, praised the deceased's sheer brilliance, a feat, which he said made him stand out among his contemporaries.

Describing the deceased as studious, he said it was not surprising when he was nominated to complete his studies abroad. According to him, “He was my roommate back in NDA but he was a very quiet and an unassuming officer. If he was not on duty, you would always find him reading his books so we were not really surprised when he topped his class.

“His lifestyle was different. He knew what he wanted and went for it. Although we were not in the same service, his death was a shock to me. I can't believe my ‘roomie’ is gone. He would always be remembered.”

Layelmenson's classmate also back at the NDA was as shocked as everyone else. According to him, he had gone to see the deceased in the training camp back at Adamawa State, before he went for the peace-keeping mission in Mali.

He said: “How was I to know that would be the last time I would see him alive? Was there something I could have done better?  He was one of the few friends that also doubled as my course mate. We were in the same battalion – Abishinya – before he was sent to Greece. The distance notwithstanding, our friendship flourished.” Already, over 900 tributes have poured in for Layelmenson, in a Facebook account opened in his honour Tuesday.

He added that Layelmenson was a very determined and focused person who was not an extremist, except when it came to his books. He said the deceased loved to gather knowledge which was why he got on so well with Ado, because the latter liked to share knowledge.

Another officer, one of Ado's junior colleagues, said he would miss the senior officer’s calm disposition. According to him, Ado was one officer that junior officers were not afraid to walk up to and ask question because he was always eager to help.

He said: “He was my mentor especially back at the 301 Flying School in Kaduna. Although he was an officer and I was just a mere cadet, he took me under his wings and nurtured me.

“He was an easygoing person that didn't talk much except when he was sharing knowledge. He loved to read and acquire knowledge and then shared it out to those who needed it.

“I don't know what must have transpired for the plane to crash but I know he was very efficient as regards his job. It is a very sad moment for the NAF at large but more for us that he mentored.”

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