NAMA explains action over grounding of Oshiomhole's aircraft

By The Citizen

The Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) explained the reason why it grounded on Friday the charter helicopter meant to convey Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole and his aides to the burial ceremony of the late wife of Senator Ben Obi in Anambra State, alleging that the said helicopter did not pay required dues.

It was gathered that the chopper Oshiomhole was flying was summoned to come to the airport for normal clearance but on getting there, and after the clearance preparatory for take-off, the pilot, Captain James Manahash of Philipines, was told that the chopper, OAS Helicopters, could not be granted clearance to fly.

But NAMA explained the pilot of the helicopter, marked 5N-BPX AS335, operated by OAS, called from Government House in Benin City, the Edo State capital, to say he would be lifting from there to Awka, the Anambra State capital.

NAMA adduce the situation of alleged inability of the pilot to file a flight plan at the airport and submit passenger manifest, further alleging that his initial response was that he was flying the governor and they were going for an important meeting in Awka.

A statement by the agency equally said the pilot was advised to lift from the airport direct and do the documentation, since he had the governor, who is chief security of the state onboard, stressing that this would have taken only three minutes.

According to NAMA: 'The flight plan can be a tool for search and rescue in case of any emergency. The pilot hesitated for a while and later consented to fly to the airport.

'At 10.18 am, the helicopter landed at the (Benin) airport and the pilot went straight to the Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) without manifest, as he claimed he didn't know the names of those on board.'

However, it was learnt that Oshiomhole remained inside the chopper for almost an hour and 15 minutes after it was recalled from air-born  and when it became obvious that he would not be allowed to fly, he aborted the trip.

A visibly angry Oshiomhole refused to talk but entered his official car and headed for his hometown, Iyamoh.

In his reaction, the Benin Airspace Acting Manager, who simply identified himself as Okolie, said: 'I don't have anything for you. If anyone said his aircraft was grounded by us, ask him why.'

Speaking to journalists, the chopper pilot, Capt. Manahash said: 'I was surprised that I was recalled after taking off from Government House because I had communicated with the control tower on radio.

'We were already airborne when we got the call to return to the airport with the threat that failure to do so would lead to complete grounding of the aircraft. The governor prevailed on me to return and listen to them.

'When we got back to the airport, I was told to pay landing and aerodrome fees which ordinary we could pay later because we were already airborne.

'Even after completion of the process of payment within 10 minutes, we were still delayed for one hour fifteen minutes, with the governor still seated and thereafter left in anger.

'I am surprised by this development because this is not the first time I would be coming to Benin to fly the governor.

'I was even threatened after payment that the aircraft will be grounded completely if I argue with them. I have flown for 35 years, seven of which I spent in Nigeria and this is the first time I am encountering a situation like this. I did not know what problem they have with the governor.'

However, Oshiomhole's Special Adviser (Media), Kassim Afegbua, said the development could be linked to the Presidency, noting that they want to 'visit Amaechi's treatment on Governor Oshiomhole.'

Afegbua alleged that the incident is connected to the ongoing alleged onslaught against governors perceived to have played a role in the re-election of Governor Rotimi Amaechi as chairman of Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF).

'I think the government of the day is competing with too many crises and it is disturbing that governors are no longer recognised, respected in the scheme of things even when it is known that they were duly elected by the people.

'How else do you explain the role of NAMA clerk who grounded a governor's aircraft and prevented him from keeping his appointment in Anambra because he is acting out a script that has become the rule off engagement by a dictatorial regime? We remain unprovoked because we are civilised people,' he said.