The Federal Government has ordered the release of the the Chad-bound Russian aircraft detained at the Aminu Kano Airport in Kano, hours after it said it was not in a hurry to let the aircraft go.
PR Nigeria, an agency that circulates press statements for Nigerian security agencies, had quoted an unnamed top security official as telling it that “Nigeria has no reason to release the aircraft and its cargo until investigation is concluded”.
But the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Adesola Amosu, said Monday afternoon that the government had approved the release of the aircraft, the News Agency of Nigeria is reporting.
The government announced the release of the aircraft shortly after PREMIUM TIMES obtained a manifest which listed the entire cargo on the plane.
According to the document, the Antonov Cargo plane, AN 124100RA82038, with flight number, TTF 9042 from Bangui, Central, African Republic to Ndjamena, Chad, contained a list of 24 military hardware including a vehicle, helicopters and blades.
A breakdown of the items are a steel box weighing 2, 600 kilograms, six bulks of 597 kilograms, two pallets 10, 000 lbs of 4, 550 kilograms with air waybill number 88823400967 all destined for Ndjamena. It is not clear what the steel box contains.
There are also two helicopter Gazelle, weighing, 2, 746 kg, destined for Istres, a community in Southern France.
Others are two blades (7.31m) of 960 kg, two blades (4.83m) of 680 kg, six AKN of 720kg, one vehicle of 4, 050kg and two pallets (10, 000 lbs) of 2800kg, all headed for Istres.
France had said the plane was conveying equipment, owned by its peacekeeping force, from Bangui (Central African Republic) to Ndjamena (Chad), and had diplomatic cover to make a stop-over in Nigeria.
The French Ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, had said Sunday that Nigerian authorities had agreed to let the aircraft go.
“Due to the nationality of the aircraft, and the nature of the cargo, local airport Nigerian authorities in Kano have decided to check the flight plan, the clearance and the cargo manifest before authorizing the plane to leave,” the ambassador said in statement through which he admitted his country’s ownership of the cargo aboard the aircraft.
“Official information has been supplied by the French Embassy in Nigeria. The Nigerian federal and airport authorities, being satisfied with the documents and the genuine character of the flight, have announced that the plane will be authorized to pursue its flight to Ndjamena.”
Russia had initially said through its embassy in Nigeria on Saturday night that the plane wasn’t Russian and that it had no link with that country.
But in another statement 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 Defence Headquarters had on Saturday said the aircraft, laden with military hardware, was arrested at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano.
While the French ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, has admitted that his country chattered the Russian aircraft to help it convey some military hardware from Bangui in the Central African Republic to N’djamena, Chad, he denied there were arms and ammunition aboard the plane.
Security operatives at the Kano Airport had seized the plane when it landed at the facility at about 2a.m. Saturday due to technical problems.
Crew members of the airplane were immediately detained while investigations continued, officials said.
Security was then beefed up at the airport in order to ensure proper investigation,” an official at the airport 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.
It is not clear why the former governor – an ally of both the Chadian and Nigerian presidents – visited the plane but there were suggestions he might have lobbied for the release of the plane.