Security officials at the National Security Adviser’s office of the Presidency in Abuja, Thursday, let off Rivers State Commissioner for Information, Ibim Semenitari, after a two-hour interrogation for alleged breech of national security.
Mrs. Semenitari was invited to appear before the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, to explain why she divulged details of purchase of two recently acquired security helicopters to the media.
In a press statement, Monday, Ms. Semenitari attempted to refute claims in a controversy began by an Abuja-based newspaper, National Pilot, alleging that Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, her boss and governor in River State, had acquired four aircraft, two armoured helicopters and two private jets for $56million, for political campaign in the 2015 presidential elections.
Mrs Semenitari said, in her statement, that the helicopters were actually bought as part of the state government’s collaboration with the federal government and its support for the security agencies in the state.
“The total cost of the helicopters was 29 million USD. The Federal Government of Nigeria through the office of the National Security Adviser paid 15 million USD, while the Rivers State Government paid the balance. The Federal Government granted duty waiver,” Mrs Semenitari claimed.
Those disclosures appeared to have angered the presidency, which led to her invitation to explain why she divulged details of the purchase of the helicopters. It is unclear if the National Security officials also invited editors of the National Pilot who started the controversy but Ms. Semenitari’s invitation and interrogation have fueled perceptions that these events were mere episodes in the worsening relations between President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Amaechi.
At her Thursday interrogation, according to River State government sources, Mrs. Semenitari was asked why her invitation suddenly became a media issue, and if she could offer further details to her claims regarding the helicopter purchase. Mrs. Semenitari did not respond to phone calls, Thursday evening, but officials in the Rivers State administration confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that she was released after interrogations without “any conditions.”
She reportedly had her lawyer with her during the interrogation led by retired Army Colonel, Bello Fadile, a man who holds a doctorate degree in law, and once admitted to framing late Gen Musa Yar’Adua and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo for coup to save his own life. The alleged former coup leader now directs special investigations at the Office of the National Security Adviser, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
It is unclear too if Governor Amaechi who had joined in the controversy would be invited. He had told State House correspondents that his state indeed bought two helicopters meant to help secure the state; and described as “false and mischievous” the report that his administration acquired four aircraft in preparation for the 2015 election.
Mr. Amaechi dismissed the report, alleging that the newspaper was only trying to be popular by being mischievous, because, as he claimed, the State Government acquired the two helicopters for security surveillance and not for political reason.
He said the helicopters would be under the control of the Nigerian Air force for patrol of the state.
The governor added, “The truth is that, and the Federal Government is aware, they gave us approval to buy two helicopters to fly around the state for the purpose of security and we have done that, we bought and we paid.
“Up till now, they have not allowed the helicopter to come in. May be they are afraid that it is for 2015. Please help us beg them on behalf of the state that we need the aircraft to be able to secure the people of the state.”
Mr. Amaechi has been having a running battle with the presidency and the national leadership of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, over his stance on major national issues, including the corruption in the petrol subsidy payments.
He is also said to be opposed to the re-election plan of President Goodluck Jonathan.
In anger, the presidency and the PDP moved February to remove the governor from his post as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.