The governor accused the Nigerian Police of partisanship.
The Tuesday shut down of the Benin Airport was not orchestrated by the Edo State Government, the governor, Adams Oshiomhole, has said.
Mr. Oshiomhole was responding to the disruption of services at the airport which led to a shut down as the Edo State Government and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) engaged in a tussle over tax debts.
At the centre of the tussle are debts allegedly owed the state government by FAAN and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), totalling N39.7 million. FAAN was accused of owing N15 million while NAMA was alleged to owe N24.7 million.
Mr. Oshiomhole, while narrating Edo State’s role in the airport controversy, denied that the state government shut down the airport; saying the state lacked such power under Nigerian law.
He said the state government served an administrative order on FAAN after duly obtaining an order from a court, informing the airport manager of the tax debts. Instead of dialoguing with the tax officials, the manager allegedly took the law into his hands, descending on the officials of Edo State Board of Internal Revenue, who served the notice on him; and thereafter, shut down the airport so as to turn the heat against the state government.
“When the airport manager was served the notice, he in turn, shut down the lounge and other offices. He shut it down so that nobody will go in or come out of the airport,” Mr. Oshiomhole said in an impromptu address at the Government House, Benin.
“Just to put it on record, the Edo State government did not shut down the airport. It was done by the manager who wanted to use it as a shield against the tax of his workers that he has not paid. The logic of the rule of law is that everybody is under the law. Nobody is above the law.
“The airport manager assaulted the revenue board officials. He also assaulted a cameraman. I am obliged to pay my tax and I am liable if I don’t pay. The fact of being a governor does not preclude me from paying my tax,” the governor said.
Mr. Oshiomhole also accused the Nigeria Police Force of unfair treatment in the crisis.
He said the Inspector-General of Police ordered the State Commissioner of Police to arrest the Chairman .of Edo State Board of Internal Revenue, Oseni Elamah, over the disagreement. He wondered why the police would choose to arrest a law abiding citizen in place of another who commits a criminal offence of not paying his tax and not remitting the duly paid taxes of others.
Several flights that were scheduled to take off from the airport could not as passengers remained stranded outside.
The Airport Manager, Sunday Ayodele, could not be reached on the airport’s next line of action as he did not respond to calls on his phone.
Tuesday’s incident occurred about two months after a private helicopter flying Mr. Oshiomhole to Anambra was recalled midair by the authorities of FAAN, who alleged that the governor’s pilot did not file the necessary flight details before taking-off from the Benin Airport. Mr. Oshiomhole later abandoned the trip after the helicopter was delayed at the airport.