NAMA Recalls Oshiomhole's Already Airborne Chopper
The National Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Friday denied clearance to a helicopter meant to fly Governor Adams Oshiomhole from Benin to Asaba enroute to Awka.Governor Oshiomhole was heading to the Anambra State capital to attend the funeral of former Senator Ben Obi’s wife, Colette, and was said to have boarded the helicopter owned by OAS at the Government House in Benin before the pilot was summoned to the airport for normal clearance.
It was learnt that on arrival at the airport, the Filipino pilot, Captain James Manahash, was told that the helicopter cannot be granted clearance to fly.
The governor, who reportedly waited inside the chopper for about an hour, had to disembark and called off the trip as the delay meant he would be late for the funeral. He was soon driven off in his official car visibly flustered.
However, the Edo State governor has denounced what he calls the increasingly dictatorial tendencies of the federal government.
Oshiomhole, who spoke through his spokesman, said it is worrying that the government is “competing with too many crises”.
His special adviser on media, Mr. Kassim Afegbua, said the NAMA officials were “acting out a script”.
He said: “I think the government of the day is competing with too many crisis 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 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.”
When journalists asked the station manager of the Benin airport, Mr. Lawrence Okoye, the reason the helicopter was denied clearance, he simply said: “I don’t have anything for you. If anyone said his aircraft was grounded by us, ask him why”.
But NAMA’s general manager in charge of public affairs, Mr. Supo Atobatele, gave THISDAY a clearer picture.
“The pilot refused to file a manifest because, according to him, he is carrying the governor from Benin to Asaba.
“At the end, the governor said he wasn’t going anymore because it was late. However, we see another boldness in trying to use executive power to disobey rules.”
Speaking to journalists later, the pilot said he was surprised he could be recalled after taking-off from Government House given that he had spoken with the control tower on radio.
“We were already airborne when we got the call to return to the airport and even threatened 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, ordinarily, 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 argued 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.”
The Benin incident occurred a few weeks after a similar one at the Akure airport involving a Rivers State-owned aircraft which was denied clearance by NAMA for the failure of the pilot to submit a manifest.
The aircraft had flown the Rivers governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, to Akure from where his convoy had driven to Ado Ekiti for the burial of former Ekiti State’s deputy governor, Mrs Funmi Olayinka. The drama however began after Amaechi’s return to the airport from the funeral.
Amaechi eventually had to fly in the aircraft that brought the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal.