A new airline, Ibom Air, is yet to officially commence business. But it is already enmeshed in a controversy over the sacking of its employee for speaking in support of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Ibom Air is owned by the Akwa Ibom state government.
Akwa Ibom is a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state, while the APC is the ruling party at the national level.
The employee, Daniel Utomette, from Akwa Ibom, was sacked from Ibom Air on May 9, seven days after he was employed as a catering handler.
The 29-year-old business administration graduate of the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic did not enjoy the benefit of receiving his first salary before he was kicked out of the job.
“This is to inform you that your services will no longer be required. This takes immediate effect,” says the termination letter, signed by Idorenyin Eddie, a human resources manager in Ibom Airlines Ltd.
Mr Eddie said in the letter that Mr Utomette would be given one-month salary in lieu of the sack notice, in addition to being paid some money for the few days he worked for Ibom Air.
Mr Utomette in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Tuesday, said a co-worker in Ibom Air informed him how his boss, the inflight services manager, came into the office some days ago fuming and accusing him of criticising the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel, on Facebook.
Mr Utomette accused the governor’s media aide, Aniekeme Finbarr, of initiating the controversy that led to his sack.
“Mr Aniekeme Finbarr made a post on Facebook, stating that I am an APC supporter and that I have been making obnoxious remarks against Governor Udom Emmanuel,” the sacked employee said.
PREMIUM TIMES has seen a screenshot of Mr Finbarr’s Facebook post on Mr Utomette, prior to his sack.
“This brother said there were no industries in the state, typical of how APC supporters talk. Today, he works at Ibom Air,” Mr Finbarr stated in the Facebook post. “Let politics not allow us run down the genuine effort of government in creating jobs. We only have one Akwa Ibom state.”
Besides his comment on the social media site, Mr Finbarr posted photos of Mr Utomette on his work outfit in Ibom Air office.
The comment and photos have since been taken down from Facebook.
Mr Finbarr declined comment when PREMIUM TIMES contacted him.
Mr Utomette admitted to PREMIUM TIMES that he made some comments on Facebook to express support for the APC governorship candidate in the state, Nsima Ekere, before the just concluded general election in the state.
He, however, denied ever making disparaging remarks against Governor Emmanuel.
Governor Emmanuel defeated the APC governorship candidate, Mr Ekere, to win reelection for second term.
Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution forbids discrimination against a citizen of Nigeria on grounds on political opinion, sex, ethnic group, or religious belief.
The Akwa Ibom government, in January this year, inaugurated Ibom Air, which is seen as a milestone in the history of the 31-year-old oil-rich state.
Governor Emmanuel said the state ventured into the airline business in order to “lessen the problems currently being encountered by numerous air travellers” to the state.
The airline is supervised by the state’s ministry of special duties and aviation.
The commissioner overseeing the ministry, Akan Okon, told PREMIUM TIMES he was not aware of Mr Utomette’s sack. He promised to investigate it.
“Membership of political party is not a consideration for employment in Akwa Ibom,” Mr Okon said.
The Commissioner for Information in the state, Charles Udoh, claimed ignorance of the sack of the airline employee.
“Employment into industries in the state are not done on political party’s basis, we are one people,” Mr Udoh said.
“No one is asked to show his PDP card before he is employed in the state. There must be some other reasons for his sack,” he added.
The sacked airline employee, Mr Utomette, said he responded to an online advertisement about the vacancies in the new airline and was overwhelmed with joy when he got the job.
As a catering handler, part of his job schedules would have been to assist in preparing, assembling, and stocking the airline catering store and flight galleries.
Mr Utomette appealed to Governor Emmanuel to intervene and help him get his job back.
“I just want to make a passionate plea to the governor to look into this matter. I don’t have any other state other than Akwa Ibom.
“I know the governor is a father to all. I have gone to church to celebrate this employment, after being unemployed for more than six years after my graduation. I have no means of survival, I just want my job back, please.” Mr Utomette said.