Less than 24 hours after denying that the Chad-bound arms-laden cargo aircraft arrested in Kano has links with its country, the Russian government has now admitted that it is indeed Russian.
It however said the military hardware aboard the plane belongs to France.
The Eastern European country had said through its embassy in Nigeria on Saturday night that the plane wasn’t Russian and that it had no link with that country.
“According to the information of the Embassy, the detained in Kano plane, allegedly carrying military hardware on board, is not Russian,” the Russia Embassy had tweeted via its handle @RusEmbNigeria.
But in a fresh round of tweets on Sunday afternoon, the embassy said the plane is indeed a Russian one hired by the French government to convey military hardware for its peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic.
The statement said, “Military equipment on board aircraft in Kano enroute CAR (Central African Republic) via Chad, allegedly owned by the French peacekeeping mission.
“The detained in Kano Russian plane chartered by the French peacekeeping mission in Chad and transporting its property.
“The Embassy is taking all measures to ensure the departure of the detained in Kano Russian plane with the French military equipment on board.”
The tweets were in Russian but translated to English by PREMIUM TIMES.
Media reports had indicated Saturday that the aircraft was Russian.
The plane, loaded with arms, bulletproof vests and a chopper, is believed to be on its way to neighbouring Chad, when Nigerian authorities intercepted it.
Although it confirmed the aircraft was being held and investigated, the military did not say where it originated from and where it was headed.
“An Antonov Cargo aircraft carrying some military hardware was arrested at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in the early hours of Saturday 6th Dec. 2014,” the military tweeted via its handle [@DefenceInfoNG].
“Investigation is ongoing to determine the content and origin of the aircraft. Further details will be made as soon as the investigation is completed.”
The Nigerian government is yet to provide any update on the plane since Saturday when the military issued the above two-paragraph statement.
Security operatives at the Kano Airport had seized the plane when it landed at the facility at about 2a.m. Saturday as a result of technical problems.
Crew members of the airplane were immediately detained while investigations continued, officials said.
“Security has since been beefed up at the airport in order to ensure proper investigation,” the officials added.
The General Manager, Communications, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Yakubu Datti, confirmed the seizure of the plane, raising more concerns about the cargo’s purpose.
He said the pilot sought permission to land at the airport after the plane developed problems.
“The plane had a technical problem and the pilot sought (for) permission to land at the airport’’, he said.
Mr. Datti said security agencies had since commenced investigation into the matter.
Security sources told PREMIUM TIMES the plane was travelling to N’djamena, the capital of Chad.
PR Nigeria, an agency known for distributing press statements on behalf of the Nigerian military, later circulated a statement saying the aircraft contained “a chopper tucked in it”.
“… Intense investigation is ongoing including using diplomatic means to unravel the mission of the aircraft, its origin and destination,” the statement said.
This is the third time since 2009 that planes loaded with arms would be arrested in Kano, our correspondent says.
The detained planes were later released after investigations.
The destination of the latest aircraft has however raised concerns amid increasing worries in Nigeria over Chad’s alleged role in the Boko Haram insurgency plaguing Nigeria’s northeast.
Airport officials in Kano told PREMIUM TIMES a former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, visited and inspected the plane late Saturday night.
The former former governor – an ally of both the Chadian and Nigerian presidents – is believed to be lobbying for the release of the plane.