Judith Amaechi, wife of Minister of Transportation, Chubuike Amaechi, was at the centre of a melee on Saturday at the Port Harcourt International Airport.
This occurred when she and her entourage arrived late for boarding an Abuja bound Air Peace Airline flight and thereafter attempted to force it from taking off without them.
Reports said Mrs Amaechi’s entourage formed a human barricade to prevent the fully boarded aircraft from taking off while her armed security aides beat up two of the airline’s ground staff for not allowing their principal board the flight.
The affected ground staff were Confidence Elechi, an aviation security station Coordinator/Supervisor, and Innocent Ekot, a flight dispatcher.
According a report by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), two officials of its Customer Care Service/SERVICOM unit on duty, Otobo Edward, and the FAAN Marshaller, Promise Nsirim, were also assaulted by the angry aides when they tried to intervene.
The report by the Crime Investigation/Intelligence Unit of FAAN at the Port Harcourt International Airport said Mrs Amaechi supervised the brutalisation of the officials and directed her aides to seize their staff identity cards, telephones and FAAN on-duty-cards.
The report made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday in Abuja, said the minister’s wife accused the airline staff and FAAN officials of being agents of political opponents sent to frustrate her travelling.
“Not even the FAAN security, nor Airforce personnel at the airport at the time of the incident could do anything to stop the beating of the officials,” the report said.
The airline’s management, the brutalised staff and other FAAN officials at the airport have all made their reports detailing what happened.
In his report, FAAN Chief Security Officer in charge of the Crime Investigation/Intelligence Unit at the airport, R.A. Ameh, blamed Mrs Amaechi’s protocol staff for failure to coordinate with the airline and monitor flight proceedings at the airport for their principal.
FAAN said although the minister’s wife arrived the airport early enough for her flight, No APK7296, scheduled to depart Port Harcourt for Abuja at 18.00 hrs. (6.00 p.m.), she was holding meetings at the VIP Lounge till after boarding formalities had been completed and the aircraft door shut.
Findings by FAAN showed that although the aircraft, 5N-BUL, landed Port Harcourt International Airport about 10 minutes behind schedule at about 17.40 hrs, flight boarding began at about 17.48 hrs.
At the time boarding formalities were completed about half an hour later at about 18.18 hrs, the report said about 56 passengers had boarded.
The final boarding call was at about 18.20 hrs, before the NAHCOL motorised staircase was removed and the aircraft door ordered finally shut by the Captain .
A FAAN safety official in charge of the VIP lounge area at the airport, Aluebhose Jonathan, said in his report that Mrs Amaechi safely accessed the VIP lounge screening point at about 18.31 hrs, more than 30 minutes after the aircraft door had been shut and boarding proceeding closed.
The FAAN report said Mrs Amaechi had arrived with a retinue of aides “not less than 13”, consisting personal staff, mobile police, plain clothe security operatives and protocol personnel.
On getting to the foot of the aircraft, Mr Jonathan said the protocol staff were told Mrs Amaechi and her entourage were late for boarding.
The pilot, Stephen Akinsete, rejected entreaties to reopen the door for the minister’s wife and her entourage to board, as the engine of the aircraft was almost at full steam preparatory for take-off.
Desperate to force the flight captain to allow them board the flight, PREMIUM TIMES learnt the protocol staff and the security men on the entourage formed a human barricade in front of the aircraft to stop it from leaving if they were not allowed to board.
“All pleas by the airline’s ground staff for them to leave the tarmac fell on deaf ears. They were very unruly and unwilling to listen to any explanations why they should not go close to the aircraft’s engine, which had already started running. They started beating and manhandling us like common criminals.
“Even the FAAN Marshall and another FAAN customer care officer who tried to plead with them to leave the tarmac were also beaten up. They also collected our staff ID cards, On-Duty-Card and CUG phones, took picture, videos and accused us of working for the opposition,” Mr Elechi recounted in his statement.
In a petition to the Regional Manager, FAAN in Port Harcourt, the Chief Security Officer, Air Peace Airlines, Akinbola Monsuru, on behalf of the airline, frowned at the maltreatment of its staff by aides of the Minister’s wife.
Mr Monsuru said the FAAN Flight Marshaller had a tough time trying to convince Mrs Amaechi and her angry orderlies to stay away from the rolling aircraft engines.
He called on relevant authorities at the airport to intervene and call the Minister’s wife and others involved to order, as the airline considered the incident a serious security breach.
Mr Ekot said in his report that on approaching Mrs Amaechi to explain to her what happened, she instructed her orderly to seize their staff identity cards, official phones and on-duty-card.
He said the items had not been returned to them as at the time of this report.
“Besides, despite attempts at about 19.10 hrs on that day to arrange an alternative flight for her later, it was too late as the only Arik airline flight to Abuja had also completed boarding.
“This is not the first time she will be coming for boarding late. She has done so on three other occasions. The only difference is that on those other occasions, her protocol staff came ahead to plead. This time, they failed to coordinate with the airline to monitor the flight proceedings,” Mr Ekot lamented.
Mrs Amaechi does not have a known spokesperson to comment for this report.
This reporter got in touch with David Iyofor, the spokesperson of the Minister of Transportation, for his assistance to connect this newspaper with Mrs Amaechi.
After reading the text message message sent to him on why we wanted to speak with Mrs Amaechi, Mr Iyofor called back to ask that the publication of the report be delayed tlll the following day to enable him get her reaction and issue a statement.
At the time of filing this report at about 2 p.m. on Thursday, neither Mrs Amaechi nor Mr Iyofor had responded as promised.
Hours later, at 7:11PM Thursday, the spokesperson to the minister sent a statement to this reporter quoting Mr. Amaechi’s wife as denying being part of the assault on the aviation workers.
“The statement said, “The wife of the Minister of Transportation is not aware of what you are talking about. She left the tarmac after she was denied entry into the Air Peace aircraft in spite of the fact that she was at the airport early, for over one hour before the scheduled departure time of the flight and the flight was delayed.
“She was already walking towards the aircraft to board the flight when the aircraft door was suddenly shut and the stairway moved away from the aircraft. She did not asked anyone to assault any airport or Air Peace staff at the airport.
“She did not see anyone brutalize anyone at the airport. She left the tarmac after she was denied boarding the Air Peace aircraft unjustifiably by Air Peace staff. We want to also refer you to the official statement by the airport managers, FAAN on the issue.”
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