A total of 13 senior Nigerian military officers who died in a plane crash over the weekend were given a national burial in the capital Thursday. The occasion that brought the country together.
Thousands of Nigerians and several foreign delegations attended the solemn ceremony at the military cemetery in Abuja.
President Olusegun Obasanjo was joined by his estranged deputy, Atiku Abubakar, as the two most powerful men in Nigeria put aside their differences to mourn the dead.
A somber-looking President Obasanjo, who lamented the loss of 10 army generals in a single peace-time incident, urged Nigerians to be comforted by the fact that the rest of the world mourns with them.
"I am only going to say to the nation, the armed forces and to the families of our departed brothers, that we are not alone, judging by the phone calls I have received from world leaders, African leaders, including the secretary-general of the United Nations. Delegations have been sent to me by brother African leaders and the fact that we have President Kabbah [of Sierra Leone], former president Kaunda, is an indication that we are not alone in our hour of darkness," said President Obasanjo.
Nigeria's chief of defense staff, General Luther Agwai, said the 13 officers represented some of the best in the Nigerian military.
"They were among the most productive, articulate and bravest in the Nigeria armed forces before their demise," he said. "They were officers who had gone to various hot spots in the world and were tested in the rudiments of modern military battlefield. They came back alive and in one piece, only to lose the ultimate battle to death in a peaceful environment. The death of these gentlemen officers is a terrible blow to the military. They were officers who had received the very best of both military and civilian training."
The climax of the three-hour ceremony was the lowering of the caskets into the 13 graves, amid wailing by friends and relations of the dead officers.
The Nigerian air force plane, with 18 passengers, crashed in a remote village in central Nigeria. Five passengers survived the crash.
An official investigation has been launched.