The Federal Government on Saturday intensified its attack on the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, with the National Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, banning the Rivers State-owned bombardier aircraft from flying in Nigeria’s airspace again.
Mr. Amaechi has been having a running battle with the presidency over his stance on major national issues and his plane was on Friday temporarily prevented from leaving the Akure Airport. A spokesperson for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, later told PREMIUM TIMES the plane was blocked from taking off because the pilot failed to declare the flight manifest.
But at a press conference in Lagos Saturday, the Acting Director General of the NCAA, Benedict Adeyinka, the Director of Airworthiness and Standards, announced the suspension of the plane from Nigeria’s airspace, saying its clearance certificate had since expired.
“The controversial aircraft on the service of Governor Rotimi Amaechi is operating illegally in the country” Mr Adeyinka said. “The aircraft, a bombardier –BD700, global express with registration no N565 RS has its clearance approval expired since Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013.”
He continued, “By our records, the last flight clearance for this aircraft was approved for operation on Thursday, March 28, 2013 on Accra-PH –Accra and to terminate on April 2, 2013. With this development, the aircraft has exceeded the extra two days or 48 hours leeway for it to leave the country.”
The NCAA official further noted that “while still operating illegally, the aircraft has been sighted in several places including Owerri and Akure.”
“The owner of this aircraft according to the certificate of registration is Bank of Utah, trustee of Salt Lake City, Utah USA. The clearance for the aircraft was sought by Caverton Helicopters on March 27, 2013. Consequently, this aircraft in reference is hereby grounded at any airport that is located right now in the country.”
The presidency and the top brass of the Peoples Democratic Party had of late become uncomfortable with Mr. Amaechi who is believed to be leading a massive opposition against Chairman Bamanga Tukur and President Goodluck Jonathan. He is also accused of using his post to strategically position himself as vice-presidential candidate of the party in the coming presidential election.
In late February, the ruling party formed the PDP Governors’ Forum, led by Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, in what analysts see as a last gasp effort by Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Tukur to dilute the perceived growing political influence of Mr. Amaechi, who was elected chairman of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum in June 2011 for an initial two-year term.
The Grounding of Rivers State Aircraft: My Story —- Governor Amaechi
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers has spoken out about the circumstances surrounding Friday’s grounding of the state-owned aircraft by the National Airspace Management Agency.
Speaking through his Chief Press Secretary, David Iyofor, the governor, in a statement, described the entire saga as shameful and ludicrous.
Read the entire statement below.
We had set out from Abuja in the morning of Friday April 26, 2013 to Imo State to attend the funeral rites of the younger sister of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. Our plane, a Bombardier jet owned by the Rivers State Government, landed at the airport in Owerri. It was in Owerri that the pilot of our plane was first tipped off that there is a plot to ground our plane in Owerri that Friday.
Fortunately for us, we took off from Owerri airport and arrived at Akure airport en-route to Ekiti for the burial of the Deputy Governor of Ekiti State Funmilayo Olayinka without any incident. On the flight to Akure was the Speaker of the House of Representatives Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal who we met in Imo State and was also heading to Ekiti for the burial of Mrs Olayinka. Also on the flight were the Governor of Rivers State Rt. Hon, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Director-General, Nigeria Governors’ Forum(NGF), Asishana Bayo Okauru, Kalabari prince and politician Prince Tonye Princewill, some aides of the Governor and me.
Once our party left the Akure airport for Ekiti, our pilot went to the airport offices to make statutory airport payments and fees, file his flight plan and declare his manifest. After filing his fight plan and declaring his manifest, our pilot was told to go and see the Controller. The Controller bluntly told him that the Rivers Government plane would not be allowed to leave the airport. In other words, the plane had been grounded! He said that the plane should have been grounded in Owerri. The Controller on duty at the airport in Akure mentioned some vague issues relating to the customs papers of the plane, which has been flying in Nigeria for many months? That didn’t make any sense to the pilot. He enquired on whose orders the plane was being grounded, he was told that it was the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA). And that he should reach the NAMA MD.
By the time our party, which now included four House of Representatives Honourable members- Mohammed Sani Idris Kutigi, Daniel Rayeineju, Idris Ahmed Wase and Ifedayo Abegunde- returned to the Akure airport, there was confusion everywhere. Speaker Tambuwal, the Honourable members and Governor Amaechi and his team, were all stranded at the airport. The plane that brought Speaker Tambuwal and Governor Amaechi to Akure could not leave Akure airport. Calls were being made as these two democratically elected leaders, furious and perplexed, tried to fathom what could have caused this monumental embarrassment to them and their offices.
After trying fruitlessly for some time to get the plane released, Speaker Tambuwal then offered to fly Governor Amaechi to Port Harcourt with the plane(another small aircraft) that brought the other four Honourable members to Akure. To accommodate Governor Amaechi in the small aircraft, one of the House of Representatives members offered his seat to the Governor .
The pilot of the Rivers State Government plane was already locking up the aircraft for us to leave for Lagos by road when a call eventually came through that the plane could now leave. The Controller received a directive to allow the plane fly out of Akure. The decision to let us go, we later learnt, was due to the pressure brought on the aviation authorities by Speaker Tambuwal.
It is indeed most shameful and ludicrous that NAMA and the Aviation authorities are now saying that they grounded the Rivers State Government plane because the pilot did not file a flight plan and declare a manifest. That’s a blatant lie. A big fat one at that. The pilot filed the flight plan and manifest, and paid all the statutory airport fees and charges shortly after the plane arrived at the Akure airport in the afternoon. If the pilot filed a flight plan and manifest at the airports in Abuja and Owerri, where he flew from same day, why won’t he then do the same in Akure? It is instructive to note that all through the traumatic time we spent in Akure, no official of the airport or aviation staff came to tell Governor Amaechi that we were grounded because our pilot “refused to file a flight plan and manifest.” All they kept saying was that they were just obeying directives, it was beyond them and we should call Abuja. Speaker Tambuwal and the other four members of the House of Representatives are living witnesses to that charade.
NAMA and the aviation authorities should explain to Nigerians why an aircraft owned by a State government, that flew the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal and a democratically elected Governor of a State who also is the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, would be grounded at an airport for no just cause?
Chief Press Secretary
To The Rivers State Governor
JD:Politicians are the same all over and i don’t buy this at all.iIdont believe the government deliberately grounded Amaechi’s plane.In the argument of the press secretary he hinged his warped argument on the status of the passengers and not the statutory papers the plane was supposed to have.FAAN says the planes certificate expired on the 2nd of April,Iyofor seemed to have overlooked that in his argument.It is typical for those in power in this country to think they are above all laws and i credit FAANfor sticking to their guns that the proper thing be done.As a matter of fact the FAAN acting Md should be fired for allowing the plane fly eventually without certified papers just because some VIPs are on board.Yes,Amaechi is a good candidate for persecution,but me thinks not this time around.Morale of the story?always do the right thing!