The Rivers State government, yesterday, claimed ignorance of the ban on the state’s aircraft flying in the country, saying it would not give heed to media speculations on the issue in the face of its own compliance to regulatory procedures on the registration of the aircraft.
The assertion nonetheless, ripples arising from the ban continued, yesterday, across the political and aviation sectors.
The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, alleged the ban to be part of a growing scheme by the ruling administration to humiliate and cripple Governor Chibuike Amaechi, saying the ban had more than anything exposed the hypocrisy of the present administration.
Leading aviation expert, Captain Tito Omaghomi, a former captain with the defunct Nigerian Airways on his part, flayed the procedure adopted by the aviation authorities on the matter.
Caution was, however, the refrain across the political landscape in Rivers State as both supporters of the governor and his traducers recently empowered to form the new executive of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state shied away from speaking on the issue.
The 700 Bombardier Global Express aircraft belonging to the Rivers State government normally used in conveying Governor Amaechi was on Friday temporarily stopped from taking off in Akure allegedly for the failure of the crew to provide a manifest.
The aircraft was subsequently on Saturday banned from flying in the country by the aviation authorities on the claim that its papers expired on April 2.
The ACN was quick to read political meanings into the action alleging it was the beginning of the days of sorrow for Governor Amaechi from the Federal Government
Amaechi, chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum has lately been in the news on allegations that he is opposed to the 2015 re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan and conceiving a plan to run as a running mate to an incumbent northern governor in the 2015 presidential election. The governor has repeatedly denied the claims.
In its reaction yesterday, the Rivers State government in a statement by the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari, claimed ignorance of any action taken against the aircraft by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.
“As we speak, all I have is information that I have gleaned from the media. All we have as a government is that information.
“No formal communication has reached us in Rivers State. We believe that it would be best that we await formal communication from the regulatory agency.
“Just to say that all our documentations are in place. And to also say that as a responsible sub-national, we have complied with the norms that regulate aviation business in Nigeria.
“We have applied formally to the minister of aviation for the import license. That application was received in her office in Sept. 2012.
“So, we believe that all of the procedure, we have complied as best as we know.
“However, we do understand that the regulatory agencies are best equipped to tell us if they think there is any lapse and we will expect that the communication will come to us formally and not through the media,” she said.
But asserting vengeance for the ban, the national publicity secretary of the ACN Alhaji Lai Mohammed said:
“One thing I can assure you is that the PDP and Jonathan will never allow Amaechi one minute. They will use every trick in their arsenal to fight Amaechi’s government. I have no doubt in my mind that the ultimate is to remove him as governor, but before then, they will do everything to ground him. People don’t know the significance of grounding Amaechi’s aircraft. When you ground the aircraft of a person like Amaechi you are demobilizing him completely. He no longer can plan his programmes as he wishes,” Mohammed told Vanguard.
“He will now be at the mercy of commercial aircraft, friends or fellow governors to even move out of Port-Harcourt. Now, Governor Amaechi should get ready and accept more humiliation, more frustration, from the Jonathan-led Federal Government.”
“Nothing has unveiled the hypocrisy of Jonathan and the PDP more than what is happening to Amaechi.
When the aircraft was grounded in Akure, they claimed it was because the crew did not file the passenger s’ manifest, but of course it is not true. Now we know the real reason is to completely humiliate and embarrass him and they will stop at nothing.”
Calling on well meaning Nigerians to rise and speak against arbitrariness, he said:
“And I think it is about time too that well meaning Nigerians should start cautioning the government because matters like this, you can only know the beginning, you can never know the end.
“I will not be surprised in the next couple of days that they mobilize the Rivers State House of Assembly to impeach him or if the EFCC and ICPC now suddenly find allegations against the speaker and members of the house. They did it before in Plateau, Oyo and Bayelsa. But we all know where it almost led Nigeria. All these deliberate acts of destabilization of the polity, the government should desist from it.”
Captain Tito one of the country’s most respected voices in the aviation sector slammed the procedure adopted by the aviation authorities.
The regulatory agency had claimed that the clearance approval expired on April 2, 2013, after which the aircraft ought to have been grounded immediately.
But Capt Tito wondered why it took the NCAA till April 27 to take action on the aircraft, noting that if the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, had not raised issues about the pilot’s flight plan in Akure, the regulatory agency wouldn’t have known that the aircraft documentation had expired.
“NCAA is just trying to cover its track in grounding that aircraft. Why did they have to wait till April 27 to ground the plane, if its documentation expired April 2?
“Is it not the same NCAA that granted extension for the aircraft to continue to fly, if there was any extension? What has happened is to tell you that the NCAA is not doing its job. What the agency did was fire brigade approach,” he said.
Tito, who said the regulatory body was right in grounding the plane, said the manner it was carried out was what led to the controversy.
He disclosed also that the NCAA had also long before now allowed the aircraft to fly using Rivers State government as call sign which, according to him, is against standard practice in aviation.
According to him, it was not until about a month ago that it started using the right call sign, which is the registration number N565RS.
On ways out of the logjam, now that the aircraft had been grounded, Tito said Rivers State government could re-apply for extension of the concession earlier granted the government to operate the aircraft.
He also appealed to the National Assembly to urgently clear Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, who President Goodluck Jonathan recommended as Director-General of the NCAA, because of the sensitive nature of the sector.