Nigerian Air Force explains controversy over drones built under Jonathan, Buhari govts

President Muhammadu Buhari at the launch of Tsaigumi Drone in Zaria [Photo credit: Twitter @MBuhari]

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) on Friday weighed in on the debates about the first Nigerian-built unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

President Muhammadu Buhari sparked the debates when he claimed on Twitter Thursday night that he had just commissioned the ‘first-ever’ UAV (or drone) built by the NAF engineers.

“Today in Kaduna I attended the induction of @NigAirForce’s ‘TSAIGUMI’, Nigeria’s first indigenously-developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). It is most gratifying that the Air Force has gone a step further than simply acquiring UAVs, to locally developing them,” Mr. Buhari wrote.

But controversies soon followed the tweet when the president’s critics exhumed news reports from 2013 which showed that former President Goodluck Jonathan had commissioned a drone built by the Nigerian Air Force at the same facility in Kaduna.

PREMIUM TIMES’ published the historic achievement by the NAF on December 17, 2013 with the headline: ‘Jonathan launches first Nigerian–built drone.’

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About three hours after Mr. Buhari’s claim was debunked with excoriating comments from Twitter users, the presidency used some of its numerous Twitter accounts to offer clarification.

“Tsaigumi, the UAV inducted into service today is the first OPERATIONAL indigenous UAV developed by @NigAirForce. The earlier-produced Amebo and Gulma were UAV prototypes that did not go into operation. Details here:,” one of such tweets, which was posted using @NGRPresident, said. Other presidency handles were also deployed to explain the president’s claim without necessarily acknowledging error.

On Friday night, Olatunko Adesanyo, a spokesperson for the NAF, corroborated the presidency’s clarification that the drone launched by Mr. Buhari was the first to be ‘operational’, but added that it was not the first to be built by its engineers.

“To set the records straight, while Gulma UAV is indeed the first indigenous UAV, the newly inducted Tsaigumi UAV is the first indigenous ‘operational’ UAV,” Mr. Adesanya, an air vice-marshal, said. “Both UAV types are the outcomes of research and development efforts of a team of NAF Aerospace engineers.”

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“NAF’s foray into UAV development commenced in 2008, when its students officers who were undergoing postgraduates studies in aerospace engineering programmes at Cranfield University, UK, chose UAV development as their research project,” he added.

It had neither autopilot nor intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability, he said.

The spokesperson said that Gulma that Mr. Jonathan commissioned was an experimental UAV developed in 2013 as a technological demonstrator used to gather performance data on drones systems. It was the first Nigerian-built drone with ISR capabilities, but it was not deployed for operations due to some limitations.

But the Tsaigumi that Mr. Buhari commissioned on Thursday was developed by the NAF’s research and development team under the supervision of the current Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar. It would be used in the war against insurgency in the Northeast and other areas where the military is currently carrying out security efforts.

When the Gulma was launched, Alex Badeh, then Chief of Air Staff, said that the drone was designed to meet vast expectations and needs. Mr. Badeh said that the Gulma could be employed by the armed forces and security agencies for the protection of the country.

Mr. Adesanya said the Gulma was limited to flying 5,000 feet in a 20-kilometre radius while the Tsaigumi could fly up to 15,000 feet in a 100-kilometre radius. The Gulma flew for about 300 hours and some of the data collected were used to develop Tsaigumi, which also has a more advanced camera for better surveillance and reconnaissance results.

Mr. Adesanya also disclosed that the NAF is currently working on another UAV named “Ichoku” which would be the first indigenous unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). The drone would be equipped with missile-firing capabilities.

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