Edo shuts down Benin Airport over unpaid taxes
Flights and commercial activities at the Benin Airport were grounded yesterday morning, following the sealing off of the airport premises by officials of the Edo State Inland Revenue Services over alleged failure of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to remit deductible tax from workers' salaries to the state.
As a result, no flight could operate in and out of the airport, from either Lagos or Abuja, by either Aero Airlines or Arik Air- the major operators on the route.
Indeed, hundreds of air passengers who were to travel by air to either Lagos or Abuja were locked out of the entrance and exit gates of the airport.
Specifically, passengers of the only Arik aeroplane which landed early in the morning, were neither allowed to go out of the gates of the airport.
Chairman of Edo Board of Inland Revenue EBIR, Chief Oseni Elamah told reporters that the action followed failure of FAAN to remit N15 million pay as you earn (PAYE) tax deductible from workers' salary for the year 2011.
'In the past, we had to use judicial means to get the money from them. This time, we served them notice but they failed to respond to it. We had to serve them court notice to that effect, which they still did not respond to. Hence, we had to come and seal up their administrative office.'
It was, however gathered that when FAAN's office was shut, the airport management allegedly locked the two gates leading to the airport, making it impossible for passengers to either go in or come out of the airport. Following this development, Elamah, who supervised the exercise, had the gates opened, saying that it was the administrative office of FAAN that was locked, and not gates of the airport.
'It was a deliberate attempt to blackmail us. It was their office we sealed, and not the gates,' Elamah said.
Confirming the development, FAAN's spokesman, Yakubu Dati described the sealing off of the Benin Airport as an invasion.
He said EBIR could have explored all avenues of communication to establish their message instead of carrying out activities that could threaten the safety and security of the airport.
Dati said significant revenue has been lost by both airlines, the airport authority as well as the airspace agency for the over ten flights by domestic airlines in and out of Benin Airport, as well as other over flyers of the airspace.
He absolved the Edo State Government of any political motive in the matter affirming that the matter could have been resolved amicably without disrupting operations at Benin Airport.
Dati, however appealed to passengers and other airport workers to exercise patience over the inconvenience the disruption has caused them, even as he said efforts are on to resolve the matter.
His words: 'We learnt this morning that some people belonging to the Edo State Inland Revenue Service early this morning shut the Benin Airport over what our staff described as non payment of taxes.
This is coming to us as rude shock, because they could have explored all lines of dialogue instead of just taking the laws into their hands'.
'To close the airport, is not good for the security and safety of the airport environment. We are appealing to passengers to bear with the situation as we are making efforts to resolve the issue. But, we are disturbed that such a development could have been resolved without taking laws into their own hands'.
'We are worried that despite the enabling law setting up FAAN, which exempts it from paying taxes and tenement rates, the Edo State Inland Revenue Service went ahead to close the airport'. We enjoy cordial relationship with the state government, and we are saddened that this is happening. The matter will soon be resolved', he added.
Between eight and ten flights operate at the Benin airport daily and only one Arik Air plane had successfully landed before the sudden closure.
'We landed this morning but we cannot take off again. The airport is shut,' said Banji Ola, spokesperson at Arik Air.
As at press time, it was not clear when the airport would be open.