Friends and colleagues of Wing Commander Chimda Hedima, who was reportedly beheaded by Boko Haram, have given a vivid account of how the Air Force pilot spent his last days.
Hedima, who was showered with praises by thousands of Nigerians on Saturday, reportedly kept a dignified composure in the face of death.
Before reporting the beheading of Hedima, French news agency, Agence France-Presse, had reported that it was in possession of a Boko Haram video that showed that Abubakar Shekau, a leader of the sect, was still alive.
This came a few days after the military’s Director of Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, said Shekau had been killed early September in Kodunga, Borno State.
The military had also shown photographs that it claimed showed the corpse of Shekau.
But Shekau, in the video, described as propaganda the claim by the Defence Headquarters that he had been killed. While claiming responsibility for shooting down an Air Force jet, the video also showed the beheading of the pilot.
Hedima’s colleagues on different social media on Saturday said Hedima, who was born in 1975, crashed the aircraft into an area where Boko Haram militants were and killed at least 63 of the insurgents.
On the Facebook page of the Nigerian Army Support Group, his friends wrote, “It is with deep regret that we announce the death of a true Nigerian hero, Wing Commander Chimda Hedima. This man was a hero of the highest order.
“On September 11, 2014, a company of Nigerian Army soldiers attempted to overrun a Boko Haram position in Borno. Due to the low altitude, the plane suffered significant damage from the terrorists’ gunfire.
“Wing Commander Hedima and his partner realised that they were going to crash.
“They, instead of hurriedly parachuting to safety within Nigerian controlled territory, chose to embark on a mission to destroy as many terrorists and their weapons as possible. They parachuted out at the last minute but not before ensuring that their plane slammed into a column of terrorists in which 63 Boko Haram members were killed as a result of their bravery.
“Wing Commander Hedima was captured. On September 12, he was killed.
“He chose Nigeria, he chose all of us. We cannot forget him. Please share his story. His name should be known by everyone.
“Rest in peace Commander, we are grateful. May you find eternal peace.”
While the military on Saturday said it was still studying the video and would talk at the appropriate time, Nigerians and family members have continued to pay tributes to Hedima.
His brother, Parry Hedima, wrote on his Facebook page that Hedima’s shoes were too big to fill.
He said, “There is a big shoe to fill. Lord I need your feet.”
One of the late pilot’s friends, Musa Salmanu, also described Hedima as a hero.
“Not knowing where to start, I will start from the end. The last time we met was some weeks back in Yola. As always, you were full of life, humility and relaxed as if you didn’t feel the weight of the responsibility placed by destiny on your young shoulders. The country expected much from you. In fact, the survival of the country depended on your bravery and courage. What a responsibility for such a young soul to bear. You didn’t disappoint, you delivered.
“Together, with your team, you played your part. You played it well.
“We are proud of you. To the team, I say we must carry on as our oga has done his bit. He died a hero, knowing that he died for his country. A soldier. He remained true to his calling till the last breath.
“To Boko Haram terrorists, we are saddened and sickened by your madness as it has no place in any civilised society. Your days are numbered. We are determined more than ever to treat you as the cancer that you are. Rest in peace my oga, friend, colleague and brother,” he said.
Another Nigerian, Aliyu Mohammed Tsadu, who referred to Hedima as a brother, said the murdered pilot’s bravery was second to none.
According to him, Hedima is a national hero.
He said, “C. S Hedima, where do I start? You were a brother, a friend and we belong to the same ‘Ex-jam’ family. Your bravery even at the point of your death was second to none. May God almighty receive your soul and give your family the fortitude to bear this loss. You died a hero and a gallant soldier. Rest on, brother.”