Grounding of my aircraft mischievous — Oshiomhole

Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole on Saturday, in Benin, described the grounding of his chartered helicopter by the Nigeria Airspace Management Authority as sinister.

Besides, he said a panel should be set up to look at the circumstances surrounding NAMA’s action.

Oshiomhole, who spoke with one of our correspondents, through his Special Adviser (Media), Kassim Afegbua, said the agency’s action was wrong and its explanation untenable.

He said, “They (NAMA) are wrong. Helicopters don’t run like normal airline operations. What if the helicopter had gone to Iyamho to pick the governor? There is more than they are saying; to stop an aircraft that was already airborne was sinister, even when the governor tried to intervene, they ignored him. That was crass of them. The governor called the NAMA man and he said he would ground the helicopter.

“Apart from us demanding an apology, we demand an inquiry into the immediate and remote cause of this embarrassment to the Edo State Governor. It is not all about reform, reform must follow rules.”

Also, the state Commissioner for Information, Louis Odion, said the conduct of NAMA’s officials left much to desire.

He said if a governor could be treated as such, there was no hope for the ordinary Nigerian.

Odion said, “That is the point Oshiomhole is drawing people’s attention to. I think the challenge before NAMA is to re-orientate its officials on the virtues of civility even in carrying out rules and regulations. They are public servants, not masters of the public.”

Meanwhile, NAMA has denied grounding the helicopter billed to convey the governor to Awka on Friday.

NAMA said claims by the governor’s aides that its officials grounded the helicopter were false.

The agency’s Public Affairs Manager, Mr. Supo Atobatele, who represented the Managing Director, Mr. Nnamdi Udoh, at a briefing in Lagos on Saturday, said the pilot of the aborted flight should take responsibility for failing to follow the proper procedure of filing the flight plan and passenger manifest as prescribed by law.

According to him, the agency discharged its duties professionally by ensuring that the AOS helicopter pilot filed his flight plan before lifting from Benin Airport to Awka.

Udoh said safety and security related issues raised by NAMA personnel in respect of flight plan and passenger manifest had no political undertones but that it was purely an aviation matter bothering on rules and regulations.

He stressed that the agency, as a matter of rules, needed to know where the aircraft was going and how many people were on board.

He said, “NAMA by statue is covered to demand for the flight plan which the pilot or his employer failed to comply with. This is a global acceptable procedure for a pilot to do before getting a start up.

“When this is not done, there will be delay while perfecting your documents at the point of departure. It was a minor issue that should not be given any political coloration as being portrayed now. NAMA is never political in discharging her duties.”

Udoh said the agency was safety driven, adding that safety does not respect status as what was applicable to ordinary citizen was also applicable to VIPs.

He said, “The General Manager ATC operations, John Oyegiri, was emphatic when he said it was the pilot that grounded himself by not doing the right thing at the right time.”

Speaking on the development, the Co-coordinating General Manager, Aviation parastatals on Communications, Mr. Yakubu Dati, said the President’s pilot do file flight plans, stressing that there was no reason why  charter operators would want to circumvent the rules.

He said the delay had no political undertone, and that when the pilot eventually complied with the procedure, the governor decided not to travel again and the helicopter thereafter returned to base in Lagos.

The Director of Electronics and Engineering Services, NAMA, Mr. Ifeanyi Nwankwo, explained that the helicopter was not airborne before the call by the air traffic controllers for the pilot to file his flight plan.

He said the pilots and operators must do things right in line with international standard.

Reacting to the development, on Saturday, National Youth Leader, Action Congress of Nigeria, Miriki Ebikina, described the incident as worrisome.

Ebikina in his statement expressed dismay at the development, saying it was unthinkable that the authorities chose to enmesh itself in more crises, even when the country was faced with serious challenges.

He said, “The grounding of Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s chartered helicopter at the Benin Airport, 42 days after a similar controversial incident was carried on the Rivers Governor’s Bombardier jet, in Akure, was a political vendetta, vexatious and provocative.

“It is more worrisome and disheartening to note with total dismay that the Federal Government in the midst of the security and insurgency challenges and political crisis engulfing the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, can still be embracing more crisis.

“With this development, it is absurd and more disturbing that state governors who are elected, are no longer given the due respect and recognition in a democratic setting.”

On his part, ACN’s National Vice-Chairman, South-South, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, said, “It was possible for them to have paid whatever fee they needed to pay before or after the journey, but it is surprising that they were allowed to take-off, only to be called back when they were already airborne and thereafter delayed them for hours.

“This is not the first time a chopper will be coming to pick the governor, considering the terrain of parts of the country, where you cannot easily access by road or by direct flight, so I am surprised that this is happening now.”

However, the state Peoples Democratic Party chairman, Mr. Dan Orbih, said it was wrong to say the Federal Government was involved in the matter.

He said rather, Nigerians should commend the Ministry of Aviation for steps taking in recent times to ensure safer airspace.

He said, “The allegation is baseless and unfounded. There are rules and regulations covering the operation of aircraft. These rules are meant to be applied irrespective of whoever is concerned. I am surprised that people are now trying to politicise apparent flagrant disobedience of a Filipino pilot, who from the account of NAMA, flouted its rules.

“In the interest of Nigerians who have to travel, NAMA applied its rules. I don’t see any issue here, except that it was Oshiomhole that was on board, and I want to use this opportunity to commend the effort of the Minister of Aviation who is doing everything to bring sanity to the industry. Her (Stella Oduah) bold and courageous efforts are appreciated by Nigerians who are interested in the safety of our airspace, in line with the transformation agenda of Mr. President.

“I also want to state that in a state where teachers are crying over non-payment of TSA, when promotion in the service has stagnated over five years, it is a great surprise that the governor has taken to the use of choppers to be ferrying himself and others to places, when the people are groaning under severe hardship.”

Culled from Punch

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