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Nigerians React to Loss of Nation's Military Chief

Military pallbearers carry the coffin of Nigeria's army chief, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, who was killed along with 10 others in plane crash on Friday, during a funeral at the military cemetery in Abuja, Nigeria, May 22, 2021.

Nigerians reacted Saturday to the sudden death of the country's military chief and other officers in a plane crash Friday in central Kaduna state.

The military Beechcraft 350 aircraft was carrying Ibrahim Attahiru on official duty when it crashed near Kaduna international airport.

Ten others, including the military intelligence chief, provost marshal and crew members, were also on board. No one survived.

At least 17 military officers have died in plane crashes in the last three months, but Attahiru's death marked the first time Nigeria had lost an active-duty military chief. He and the other officers were buried Saturday at the military cemetery in Abuja.

Many Nigerians reacted to the losses. President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted, "All of them are heroes who paid the ultimate price for peace and security in the land."

'I feel terrible'

Abuja resident Enimobong Edoho was still in disbelief.

"I feel terrible," he said. "Opening my phone to see the news of the chief of army staff is rather devastating."

Authorities said they thought the aircraft crashed as a result of bad weather.

Attahiru, 54, was appointed as military chief in late January to lead the army's fight against Nigeria's decadelong insurgency after Buhari retired his predecessor over growing security concerns.

Security analyst Senator Iroegbu said Attahiru's death was a huge strike to the counterinsurgency effort.

"His death came at a time the country is grappling with so much insecurity," Iroegbu said. "Every part of the country is facing one form of insecurity or the other. [The] majority of his focus has been towards the northeast, trying to reinvigorate the fight against terrorism."

Iroegbu said a new chief must be appointed without delay.

The Nigerian army "can't operate without a head, not even for a day," he said. "There's a big vacuum. If care is not taken, the enemies might take advantage of this."