By Jimitota Onoyume & Daniel Eteghe
Rivers State government,yesterday, alleged that an aircraft, scheduled to fly Governor Rotimi Amaechi and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, among others, out of Akure, Ondo State, was grounded by the aviation authorities on spurious grounds.
It described as false the claim that the aircraft’s pilot did not submit a manifest alongside his flight plan.
But the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), in a response, said the plane was not grounded but delayed.
Amaechi, Tambuwal and the others were returning from Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State where they attended the funeral of the deputy governor, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Olayinka, on Friday, when the incident happened.
A statement by the chief press secretary to the Rivers State governor, David Iyofor, yesterday, entitled
How Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, House of Representatives Members, Director-General Governors’ Forum Prince Tonye Princewill were grounded in Akure Airport and aviation authorities, cock and bull stories, narrated the alleged grounding.
“We had set out from Abuja in the morning of Friday April 26, 2013 for 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 was a plot to ground our plane in Owerri that Friday”, the statement started.
It continued: “Fortunately, we took off from Owerri airport and arrived Akure airport en-route 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 myself.
“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 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, Governor Amaechi and his team, were stranded. The plane that brought Speaker Tambuwal and Governor Amaechi to Akure could not leave the airport. Calls were made as these two democratically elected leaders, furious and perplexed, tried to fathom what could have caused this monumental embarrassment.
“After trying fruitlessly for some time to get the plane released, Speaker Tambuwal 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.
Plane only held for five minutes – NAMA
Reacting to the Rivers government story, yesterday, NAMA boss, Nnamdi Udoh, stressed that the aircraft was not grounded but delayed because the pilot did not submit the manifest alongside his flight plan to the appropriate authorities.
He spoke to newsmen at the agency’s headquarters at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Udoh debunked the claim that the aircraft was grounded by the agency.
According to him, there was five minutes delay because the pilot, at the time of take-off, did not submit the manifest of the names of those on-board the aircraft contrary to the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that was issued to non-scheduled operators earlier this year, adding that adequate clearance must have been given to avoid any delay because the Akure airport was restricted to day light operations only.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority(NCAA), last night, declared that the Rivers government aircraft was operating illegally as its clearance approval expired on April 2, 2013.
Consequently, the NCAA said it had finally grounded the Bombardier -BD 700, Global Express aircraft. Addressing reporters at the Aviation House, the headquarters of NCAA, the director of airworthiness standards, Engineer Benedict Adeyileka, explained that while the aircraft was operating illegally , it was sighted in several places including Owerri and Akure.
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