Francis Ogolla
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A plane crash after year in office: How General Ogolla’s death mirrors that of Nigeria’s Ibrahim Attahiru

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Military personnel carry the body of the late General Francis Ogolla after military honours and memorial service. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

The shocking death of General Francis Ogolla in a helicopter crash on Thursday, barely a year after becoming the country’s Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), mirrors that of Lt-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru of Nigeria on May 21, 2021.

Gen Ogolla became the first CDF to die in office. The copter crash has triggered questions and rumours.

That was the case too when Lt-Gen Attahiru died in a crash near Kaduna International Airport.

Attahiru had been the Chief of the Army Staff for only five months when he and 10 of his colleagues were killed as their aircraft, a Nigerian Air Force Beechcraft Super King 350, went down.

The late Lt-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru of Nigeria.

The late Lt-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru of Nigeria.

Photo credit: Pool

Just like Gen Ogolla, Attahiru was the first active-duty military chief to die in office in Nigeria.

It is rare for the head of a military anywhere in the world to die in a plane accident.

Lt-Gen Attahiru was named the country’s military boss in January 2021 as part of a shake-up of the top command by then-president Muhammadu Buhari.

He was to help fight violence, including the terror group, Boko Haram in the north.

On Thursday, Gen Ogolla was onboard a Bell Huey II helicopter alongside 11 other military personnel.

He and nine others died while on a mission to beef up security and rebuild schools that had been shut as a result of banditry in the North Rift region.

On April 8, President William Ruto made a commitment to ensure Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) personnel reached schools affected by banditry and general insecurity in the North Rift.

Everything is in place ahead of General Francis Ogolla's memorial service at the Ulinzi Sports Complex on April 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

In Nigeria, president Buhari appointed Attahiru in the wake of the deadly attacks by Boko Haram insurgents.

At least 18 people had been killed and many others injured or abducted by the group in Borno.

Attahiru had served as the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole.

But he was relieved of the duties barely nine months after the 2017 appointment.

His promotion to be the country’s Chief of the Army Staff was, therefore, highly unlikely.

Just like President Ruto, the Nigerian head of state had settled on this unlikely choice, saying he was dependable and professional.

In 2010, Attahiru – a colonel then – was in Nairobi as a military student at the National Defence College.

General Francis Ogolla Memorial

General Francis Ogolla's memorial service at the Ulinzi Sports Complex on April 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

He would return to Kenya for an Executive Education course offered by the Harvard Kennedy School in partnership with Aga Khan University in 2018.

Attahiru’s appointment as Chief of Army Staff was based on his experience in fighting banditry and terrorism, according to Buhari.

President Ruto named Gen Ogolla the CDF on April 28, 2023 despite the controversy of the latter’s alleged involvement in an attempt to “overturn the August 2022 presidential election outcome”.

In a later interview, Dr Ruto would defend the decision to appoint Gen Ogolla despite the claims.

 Francis Ogolla Memorial

Military personnel salute during late General Francis Ogolla military honours and memorial service on April 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

At the same time, the crash in Sindar, Elegyo Marakwet County, that claimed the General’s life added to the list of accidents involving KDF helicopters.

A military helicopter on a relief food supply mission crashed during take-off in Wajir County in November last year.

Earlier in the same month, a KDF helicopter went down in Kisamis, Kajiado West Sub-County, seriously injuring two pilots.

A Kenya Air Force helicopter struck a power cable while en route to Nairobi on November 9.

Another military helicopter crashed at Chemolingot Stadium, Baringo County, in July last year.

Onboard were officials who had accompanied Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale on a security mission.

Lt-Gen Attahiru’s death in northern Nigeria followed a series of other air crashes involving the country’s military helicopters.

The crash that killed him was the third in just four months.

The three other accidents claimed lives of 21 military personnel.

Just like in Kenya, the trend raised concerns over the conditions of the Nigerian military aircraft.