Three staff of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCo) attached to Arik Airlines are in custody at the Akwa Ibom State Police Command headquarters, Ikot Akpan Abia, for allegedly stealing N2million from the luggage of a Government House, Uyo protocol staff at Ibom International Airport.
The money was said to have been removed from the about N8million reportedly taken to Lagos by the protocol team for use during Governor Godswill Akpabio’s trip for his investiture as the Sun Newspapers Man of the Year award ceremony penultimate Saturday.
Bundles of the mint-fresh notes reportedly kept in one of the official’s luggage allegedly developed wings in mysterious circumstances when some top government officials on the governor’s entourage were returning to Uyo.
Premium Times gathered that no sooner it was discovered that the luggage in which the money was kept had been tampered with than the protocol officer raised the alarm about the missing money.
A quick search conducted on all luggage and personal effects of passengers and staff of the baggage unit of the airline led to the recovery of the money from where the prime suspect, one Victor, who was in charge of the baggage unit, had hidden it.
Following the recovery of the money, the protocol officer was said to have gotten in touch with the chief security officer and the Director of Protocol, Aniekpeno Mkpanam, who were still in Lagos with the governor, to alert them of the incident.
Following the governor’s order for the immediate arrest and detention of the culprits and their accomplices pending his return to Uyo, Victor and two of his colleagues were initially detained for questioning at the airport police station before being transferred to Ikot Akpan Abia Police headquarters where they are being held.
The governor reportedly gave instruction that the matter should be handled discretely so Nigerians do not have the impression that government officials were moving about with huge cash.
Sources within the administration say Governor Akpabio’s entourage is in the habit and moving around with large amount of cash , at times dashing huge amounts to people on the spur of the moment.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Akwa Ibom State Police Command, Onyeka Orji, an assistant superintendent of police (ASP), who confirmed the detention of the three suspects, said they would be arraigned in court Monday.
“The suspects were taken to court on Thursday and Friday last week to be arraigned, but unfortunately the court officials said they were on prison visit for the two days,” he said. “They would be taken back to the High Court in Uyo by 7 a.m. on Monday for their arraignment.”
Premium Times learnt that the state government had worked hard to play down on the incident.
When contacted, Mr. Mkpanang denied knowledge of the incident.
“Nobody has stolen my money,” Mr. Mkpanang said. “If anybody has stolen money, it cannot be my money. I don’t have enough money for somebody to steal. Even if it is protocol money that has been stolen, I am not aware of it. Even then, protocol money does not belong to anybody. It is government’s
The state Commissioner for Information, Aniekan Umana, promised to send a response to Premium Times by email. He did not.
When contacted for his official reaction on the incident, Arik Airlines head of corporate communications, Banji Ola, refused to answer our reporter’s questions on the telephone, saying he would send his official email address for our questions. He had not done so as at the time of publishing this report.
Premium Times learnt that it was commonplace for airport staff to steal from the luggage of the Akwa Ibom State Government House protocol staff, who are known to carry large sums of cash with them each time the governor travels within and outside the state.
“This is not the first time this has happened,” a staff of the airline, who does not want his name in print, told Premium Times.
“It has always happened, even during pilgrimages. But, innocent persons have always been arrested, while government always played down on it for reasons best known to them.
“This time, when it happened again, the workers said they cannot continue to suffer for an offence they know nothing about, and had to name the culprit, who initially confessed he was alone, only to later name two of his accomplices.”