At the special FEC meeting which held inside the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, said he had started walking towards the ill-fated helicopter in company with the deceased former governor of Kaduna State, Patrick Yakowa, and ex-National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoeye Azazi (retd.), only to turn back.
“I stood up and was going together with them (Yakowa and Azazi) but by some involuntary actions, I returned to my seat,” Maku told cabinet members, many of whom, especially the females, shed tears freely.
Specifically, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke; Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah; and Minister of State, Defence, Olusola Obada, broke down in tears at the session.
Most of the ministers were clad black attire, depicting the mood of the solemn session presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan.
A minute silence was observed in honour of the deceased while all FEC members led by Jonathan also signed a condolence register in honour of the victims of the crash.
Yakowa, Azazi and four others died in the crash which occurred at Okoroba, Bayelsa State. The victims were returning from the burial of the father of a Presidential aide, Oronto Douglas.
The other victims were a friend and Adviser to Yakowa, Dauda Tsoho; an aide to Azazi, Warrant Officer Mohammed Kamal; and the two pilots that flew the ill-fated Augusta 109 Naval Helicopter.
The portraits of Yakowa and Azazi were continously beamed on a big screen in the chambers and on the small monitors in front of each minister while the session lasted.
I was saved by fate –Maku
Maku recalled how he narrowly escaped being on the ill-fated helicopter with Yakowa and Aziza.
The minister said that he; a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Timi Alaibe; and an aide of the Vice-President, Mr. Umar Sani, were initially billed to travel on the same helicopter alongside Yakowa and Azazi.
He said, “When we met in Bayelsa, it was a twist of fate that we did not board the same helicopter because on that day, the Special Adviser to the Vice President, Sani Umar; myself and (a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission) Timi Alaibe, were supposed to travel together with the two of them (Yakowa and Azazi) back to Port Harcourt.
He said, “Somehow, just before we could take off from the funeral arena, Sani backed out and decided to travel alone. I stood up and was going together with them (Yakowa and Azazi) but by some involuntary actions, I returned to my seat.
“I said I would wait for a moment. That was simply the twist of fate that kept us alive, we must give glory to God.”
Maku recalled that Yakowa and Azazi were full of life throughout the burial ceremony of Oronto Douglas’s father, oblivious of the fact that death was lurking around.
Good people don’t last –Jonathan
In his tribute, President Jonathan observed that unlike the case of typical Nigerian politicians, Yakowa did not attract too many negative comments while alive.
He described the day of the crash as a black Saturday in the country.
“Yakowa was a different class of politician. Most of us who are politicians exploit religious sentiments to divide Nigerians for our own selfish gains. We exploit the North/South divide to divide Nigerians for our selfish gains.
“But Yakowa was very different. He was a gentleman who believed in the unity of this country,” the President said.
Describing Azazi as somebody who meant well for the country, Jonathan said his relationship with the former NSA dated back to when he was deputy governor in Bayelsa State and Azazi was the Director, Military Intelligence.
He said, “Sometimes, people wonder why good people die. It is quite touching. Both of them touched our lives; they worked for this country. We pay condolences to their families, the families of their aides, the family of the pilot as well as the family of the co-pilot.
“The Honourable Minister (Godsday Orubebe) just told us that Azazi has a 90-year-old mother. Can you imagine how a 90-year-old mother will mourn a son who did very well and rose to become a four-star General in the Nigerian Army?”
Azazi left a 90-year-old mother–Orubebe
Minister of Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe, told the ministers that Azazi left a 90-year-old mother behind.
The disclosure drew fresh tears from the eyes of council members.
He described the day of the crash as a sad one, adding that he could not organise himself for two nights because of the incident.
Orubebe said, “I met his 90-year old mother who practically carried me on her lap and told me stories of my family. Saturday was a sad evening. For two nights, I could not organise myself. He was a fine soldier. He was a friend of all. He loved everybody and was there for everybody. A great man we have lost.
“He will be remembered for the roles he played to persuade former Niger Delta militants to drop arms. We pray that God should send a comforter to comfort his aged mother and wife and all those left behind.
“I met Yakowa in 2010. He will be remembered for the role he played in Kaduna and the North. He was a man of the people. God will comfort his beloved wife. We are consoled by the fact that God is never taken unawares. Death is an inevitable end. God knows why it happened in that way and that time and why it was them.”
I requested for Yakowa –Sambo
Vice-President Namadi Sambo said he received the news of the crash and the death of the deceased with a “great shock and deep pain.”
He recalled that he knew Yakowa over 25 years ago when he (Sambo) was appointed the Commissioner for Agriculture in Kaduna State and Yakowa worked under him as a director.
Sambo said when the deceased became a Permanent Secretary, he requested that he be posted to his ministry because of his hard work.
“In 2007, I selected him as my running mate when we were contesting the governorship election. Upon our victory, he became the deputy governor. He was a bridge builder; he has successfully built that bridge in Kaduna State. He was a gentleman; he can never be forgotten in Kaduna,” Sambo said.
He recalled that during the last meeting of the National Economic Council held in the Presidential Villa, he had mistakenly asked Yakowa to pray in Islamic way while he directed Governor Peter Obi of Anambra to pray in Christian way.
He said when his attention was called to the fact that Yakowa was a Christian, he still insisted that the late governor pray in Islamic way because he had built a bridge between Christians and Muslims in the state.
Sambo said the nation had lost a good officer with the death of Azazi.
He recalled that he met the former NSA when he was the General Officer commanding, 1 Mechanised Division, Kaduna.
A lesson to us all –Mailafia
Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Mailafia, described the tragedy as a wake-up call to all of them in the cabinet and other public office holders that no condition is permanent.
“This incident is a lesson to us that no condition is permanent. In humility we find strength. We should remember that one day, another set of people will be sitting here,” she said.
She described Yakowa as humble, good and open. The minister added that Azazi stood by her when she was facing some challenges.
Describing their death as very traumatising, the minister said she kept hoping that somebody would come and tell her that the deceased were still alive.
Death is sure–Alison-Madueke
One of the ministers that cried, Diezani Alison-Madueke, said the incident only confirmed that death was the only sure thing.
“It is clear that the only sure thing is death. We don’t know when it will come and where,” the petroleum resources minister declared.
Alison-Madueke recalled that Azazi was her close friend of many years, and described him as a fine gentleman that would be remembered for his professionalism and exceptional strength.
“It is a trying period for Bayelsa and Kaduna states as well as the country. A big tree has fallen in Ijaw land and a clay pot is broken. In Yakowa, the country has lost a very genuine and passionate leader of his people. He was a thorough governor, very humane and generous,” she added.
We have to move forward –Muhammed
The FCT Minister, Bala Muhammed, in his tribute said the deceased came, served and impacted positively on the government and Nigerians.
“Yakowa distinguished himself as a bridge builder. He opened his heart and conquered divisive tendencies. In him, we have lost a statesman. Azazi was a father. He was always there for me on issues bothering on the security of the FCT. He was one of the biggest bridge builders in the country. The loss is irreparable, but we have to move forward,” he said.
Other ministers who paid tribute to the deceased included Olusola Obada (State, Defence); Abba Moro (Interior); Shamsudeen Usman (National Planning); Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Finance); and Ali Pate (State, Health).
Immediately after the tribute session, Jonathan announced the adjournment of the meeting till January 9, 2013 when outstanding memos would be discussed. He, however, directed ministers who would not be directly involved in the preparation for Yakowa’s burial to remain in their offices.