The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency on Friday grounded a chartered helicopter conveying Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, from Benin, the state capital, to Awka, the Anambra State capital.
Critics of the federal government see the development as a continuation of the onslaught against state governors who opposed President Goodluck Jonathan’s anointed candidate for the chairmanship of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the OAS Helicopter, which was flying Mr. Oshiomhole from Benin City to Awka for the funeral of late Colette Obi, wife of Ben Obi, a presidential adviser on political matters, was already airborne before authorities recalled it.
“I was surprised that I was recalled after taking off from Government House (in Benin City) because I had communicated with the control tower on radio,” explains Captain James Manahash, the Filipino pilot of the helicopter. “We were already airborne when we got the call to return to the airport and we were even threatened that failure to do so would lead to complete grounding of the aircraft.”
He continued, “The governor prevailed on me to return and listen to them. When we got back to the airport, I was told to pay landing and aerodrome fees which, ordinarily, we could pay later because we were already airborne. Even after completion of the process of payment within 10 minutes, we were still delayed for one hour fifteen minutes. The governor left in anger after that.
“I am surprised by this development because this is not the first time I would be coming to Benin to fly the governor. I was even threatened, after payment, that the aircraft would be grounded completely if I argued with them. I have flown for 35 years, seven of which I spent in Nigeria and this is the first time I am encountering a situation like this. I do not know what problem they have with the governor.”
Contacted on the matter, the Managing Director of OAS Helicopters, Everest Nnaji, said, “I am still making calls to find out exactly why they did not allow the pilot fly the helicopter conveying the governor to Anambra State. I am really angry. I don’t know why they did that and that is why I am still trying to make contact because we have no problems with NAMA.”
The Acting Manager of NAMA in Benin, a Mr. Okolie, wouldn’t comment on why his agency treated the governor that way. He simply said, “I don’t have anything for you.”
A visibly angry Mr. Oshiomhole wouldn’t also comment on the accident after he abandoned the journey and hurried into a waiting car which sped towards Iyamho, his hometown.
But the governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Kassim Afegbua, who reacted to the incident, said, “I think the government of the day is competing with too many crisis and it is disturbing that governors are no longer respected or recognized even in their own domain when it is known that they were duly elected by the people.
“How else do you explain the role of a NAMA clerk who grounded the governor’s aircraft and prevented him from keeping his appointment in Anambra State because he is acting out a script that has become the rule of engagement by a dictatorial PDP regime? We remain unprovoked because we are a civilized people.”
Mr. Oshiomhole played a lead role in the defeat of Governor Jonah Jang, the presidency’s anointed candidate in the recent chairmanship election of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
Already, the winner of that election, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, has been suspended from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party for daring to present himself for the election despite the opposition from his party.
The aircraft owned by Mr. Amaechi’s state has also been grounded by Nigerian aviation authorities.
Governor Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, suspected to have voted for Mr. Amaechi, has also been suspended from the party.