Image of crashed military aircraft was taken in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, not Orlu

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An image showing people surrounding the wreckage of an aircraft is circulating in multiple social media posts claiming to show a military jet that crashed while heading to Orlu in southeastern Nigeria where tensions between local militia and security forces have been high. However, this is false: the photo actually shows a Nigerian Air Force plane that crashed near the capital airport in Abuja.

One of the Facebook posts with the photo has been shared nearly 4,000 times since it was published on May 31, 2021 -- the same day Nigeria’s proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) declared a stay-at-home order to commemorate the lives lost during the 1970 Biafra war.

Screenshot taken on June 2, 2021, showing the false post

“Breaking: A Nigeria Airforce Jet Heading To Orlu Has CRASHED in Akure, Ondo State....,” reads the caption on the Facebook post. The rest of the post accuses the Nigerian government of “hiding” the air disaster that purportedly occurred in Akure, the capital of Ondo state in Nigeria’s southwest.

Orlu is located in Imo state in southeast Nigeria, a region that has long been a hotbed for separatist groups fighting for an independent state for the Igbo population.

The image shows an aircraft crash site cordoned off with red-and-white tape. Firefighters, uniformed military officials and four ambulances also appear in the photo.

The claim, however, is false; while the picture indeed shows a crashed Nigerian Air Force plane, it was an unrelated accident in a different part of the country.

Image taken in Abuja

A Google reverse image search found an earlier version of the image published by television news channel Al Jazeera, in February 2021. From there, AFP Fact Check traced the original to the archives of Reuters news agency.

Screenshot taken on June 2, 2021, showing the image on Reuters’ website

“Rescuers and people gather near the debris of a Nigerian air force plane, which according to the aviation minister crashed while approaching the Abuja airport runway, in Abuja, Nigeria,” the caption on the photo reads. It was taken by Afolabi Sotunde on February 21, 2021.

AFP Photographer Kola Sulaimon also documented the accident that killed seven people on board. 

The aircraft was originally destined for the city of Minna, roughly 96 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Abuja. However, it returned to Nigeria's capital after reporting engine failure, according to Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika.

While this accident was widely covered by local and international news organisations, there is no evidence of any air mishap in Akure.

AFP Fact Check has reached out to the Nigerian Air Force and aviation authorities concerning the same claim published on the website of Sahara Reporters. This fact check will be updated if we receive a response.

Nigeria has seen 10 air crashes over the past decade, with three of the most recent involving military aircraft, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives. However, according to data from the Geneva-based body, none of the accidents occurred in either Ondo or Imo states.

IPOB supporters regularly share misinformation on social media to attack the leadership of Nigeria and have latched onto the recent air mishaps involving military jets amidst unrest in the southeast region. AFP Fact Check has previously debunked some of the claims here, here and here.