The Nigerian military on Friday, 27 June, 2014 prevented a planned airlift of 278 Muslim pilgrims travelling on lesser hajj to Saudi Arabia from the Maiduguri International Airport, this is according to a Premium Times report.
It was gathered that after stopping the 278 passengers from flying out of Maiduguri, the military also stopped a private chartered flight from conveying two federal lawmakers and six others to Abuja.
A source at the Maiduguri airport informed that the intending pilgrims had earlier undergone thorough security checks and were waiting to board a MaxAir flight that was already on ground when soldiers interrupted the process.
It was gathered that the military men, purportedly acting on “orders from above”, insisted that the two aircrafts would have to leave the city’s airport empty.
They insisted that the hundreds of pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia must go by road to Kano through the unpredictable Maiduguri-Damaturu-Potiskum road, to fly out of the country.
It was informed that the soldiers and their leaders refused all entreaties by officials of the Borno State Government, including Governor Kashim Shettima, to let the pilgrims travel out because moving to Kano by road from Maiduguri could be at risk given past instances of attacks along the Maiduguri-Damaturu-Potiskum road.
It was gathered that the travel arrangement was at the instance of tour operator, Skynet International Limited, which hired MaxAir for the airlift.
The Managing Director of the tour operator company, Grema Terab said the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and military authorities had given it the green light to proceed with the arrangement.
Those that witnessed the incident informed that there was a tension at the airport as intending pilgrims became restive, expressing their disgust over the aborted trip.
In a separate development, the military also stopped Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume from taking a flight out of Maiduguri.
It was gathered that the military prohibited the senator and others in his flight from boarding a chartered aircraft and forced the flight to take off from the Maiduguri airport with empty seats.
When the spokesperson for the Defence Headquarters, Chris Olukolade, was contacted on the matter, he insisted that the Saudi-bound flight was aborted for security reasons.
He said: “Borno state authorities who arranged the flight were briefed on the reasons that flight could not board passengers in Maiduguri.
“We also offered alternative means of conveying the pilgrims elsewhere to board their flights, and we are surprised that the issue we believed was amicably resolved is now being made a media issue.”
The Maiduguri airport was reopened some months ago by the Nigerian Air Space Management Agency after it was closed down due to an attack by the Boko Haram sect in which some Air Force jets were destroyed.