His record of leadership is a tribute to his strength, judgement, and preference for inclusion and partnership

Lukman Afolabi

There is no doubt that Nigeria has lost one of its greatest leaders, Group Captain Salaudeen Latinwo, who lived all his life in the service of his nation. Latinwo was a great statesman with a strong voice who could have made a difference, especially in these trying times of a dearth of good leadership and security threats.

The country would miss his wealth of knowledge, experience, and statesmanship contributions to national development. His input to the return and stability of democracy in Nigeria would not be forgotten in a hurry. In him, the nation had lost a committed military officer who served his nation fearlessly with the utmost sense of responsibility and patriotism.

His record of leadership is a tribute to his strength, judgement, and preference for inclusion and partnership. In good times and bad, he never lost his capacity to smile and laugh or to inspire others with his warmth and kindness. He was admired and respected for his energy, his obligation to others, and especially his devotion to the betterment of the country. Llatinwo lives on forever in the hearts and minds of all those he touched positively during his long and remarkable career of national service in military commands and the political offices he held.

Born into the illustrious Alhaji Aliyu Onaolapo Olatinwo family in 1943. He was one of the 43 children of the 10 wives of his late father. Between 1950 and 1956, he attended St. Marks Primary School in Offa, where he was a classmate of Engr. Tunji Ijaiya. From 1957 to 1961, he attended Offa Grammar School for his secondary education. Among his classmates were His Royal Highness, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, the Emir of Ilorin, Chief G.G. Jaiyeola, Dr. Lateef Giwa, a cardiothoracic surgeon from the United States. He joined the Northern Nigeria Civil Service and worked for the Northern Nigeria Ministry of Education until 1963. He went to the National Institute of Administration in the United Kingdom in 1962 for an executive officers' course, and he rose to the rank of assistant chief executive officer in the then Northern Nigeria Ministry of Education.

He was one of those persuaded to represent Northern Nigeria in the new Nigeria Air Force when Sardauna of Sokoto and the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, wanted young men with potential to be enlisted in the Air Force. His idea of the Nigerian Air Force, when he was enrolled was one of aeronautical engineering and aircraft building, but it later turned out to be military, as he discovered when he arrived in Germany for training. His wealthy father was not happy to have him as a soldier.

He was among the first group of officer cadets hired into the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in 1963, along with Adebayo Hamid Lawal (who retired as Air Vice Marshal in 1990), by the first Chief of Air Staff, Colonel Gerhard Kahtz, who was serving as Head of the German Airforce Assistance Group (GAFAG) on secondment. The screening process included an aptitude test, a medical exam, and a physical fitness test. The Air Force Act of 1964, which took effect on April 18, 1964, officially established the Nigerian Air Force.

He received basic and advanced military training in Uetersen, West Germany, between 1963 and 1966, where he trained as an Air Force officer in Air Navigation. Upon arrival, he was appointed adjutant at Kaduna Air Force Base, assistant base commander at NAF Base Kano, and later deputy base commander at NAF Base Benin City. In 1972, he completed a six-month conversion training course on the Ilyushin II-28 fighter-bomber aircraft management course in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, earning him the rank of Captain. At various times, other trainings were held in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Nigerian Command and Staff College.

He was nominated as one of the Military Administrators to serve under Major General Muhammadu Buhari's administration in 1984 by the then-Chief of Air Staff, AVM Ibrahim Mahmud Alfa. While serving as Kwara State Milad under General Buhari, he implemented the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), queue culture, punctuality culture, and monthly sanitation culture, among other policies meant to reorient and mobilise people and galvanise nationalistic fervour in Kwarans. He also built standard hospitals across the State. His enduring legacies include the Sobi Specialty Hospital in Ilorin and the General Hospital in Offa, New Bussa, Okene, Kabba, and Lokoja, among others. The hospital buildings are fondly referred to as Latinwo Hospital. Among those who served in his administration were the late Dr. Abdulkadir Salman Oniyangi as Head of Service and Secretary to the Military Government, Chief Y.F. Oyeyemi as Commissioner for Works, Lands, and Survey, and other cabinet members.

Chief G.G. Jaiyeola was also a permanent member in charge of Staff matters in the Kwara State Education Management Board, with Chief B.L. Obasa as Chairman and Late Alhaji S.M. Dolapo as Secretary. During Major General Buhari's official visit to Kwara State in 1985, He said the following words about Latinwo, who was at the time Kwara Staye Milad: "I wish to say that the state government, under the able leadership of the Kwara State Military Governor, Group Captain Salaudeen Adebola Latinwo, has a lot to do to better the lives of the masses throughout Kwara State. His actions have instilled discipline and increased people's confidence in his administration."

After General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida took power on August 27, 1985, Latinwo was appointed Director of the Directorate of Administration at the Nigeria Air Force Headquarters, Lagos, until his retirement in 1986. In 2001, former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as a board member of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). In 2008, Latinwo was appointed Chairman for Kwara State at the National Committee on Mineral Resources and Environmental Compliance (MIREMCO).

He received numerous awards and titles, including the Defence Service Medal (DSM), Force Service Star (FSS), General Service Medal (GSM), National Service Medal (NSM), Republic Medal (RM), and Outstanding Leadership Award, which he received on May 27, 2017, during Kwara State's 50th anniversary of creation by then Governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatai Ahmed. In his hometown, he was bestowed the honorary chieftaincy title Arogundade of Offa. He was married to his heartthrob, Mrs. Mercy Latinwo (nee Aganga), in 1971 and had four children, two of whom were pilots. He held a PhD in Aerospace engineering. His death in the United Kingdom after a long illness is a great loss, not only for Kwara State but for the entire country. The Kwara State government should immortalise this great man to show their appreciation for his services to the state.

Lukman Afolabi writes from ILORIN, Kwara State 


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