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Air force: Why we stopped southern elders from flying to Benue

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has explained the reason it prevented a chartered aircraft meant to convey some southern and middle belt elders from Abuja to Makurdi, Benue state capital.

Some members of the southern and middle belt forum led by Edwin Clark, Ijaw national leader, and John Nwodo, president-general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, were on Monday stopped from traveling to Makurdi, to attend the middle belt summit on restructuring.

Nwodo said after spending at least five hours at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, trying to obtain a landing clearance for the journey, the commandant of the Makurdi airport turned down their request.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja after they were disallowed from flying, Nwodo accused the Muhammdu Buhari-led administration of running a military system.

But in its reaction, the air force said the group was prevented from flying after it sought to travel with another aircraft other than a previously approved one.

Olatokunbo Adesanya, the force director of public relations and information, said the elders’ application to use the airport through Benue state government with a chartered plane was approved

He added that they were however, going to fly with another plane with details different from the one approval was given for.

He explained that they could not allowed to fly until another approval process is followed and approved for the new plane

Adesanya added that NAF does not concern itself with politics or religious issues.

Below is his statement:

There is absolutely no iota of truth in the allegations that NAF’s decision was politically motivated. To start with, the runway at NAF Base Makurdi is not a dual user facility but one constructed strictly for military purpose.

Accordingly, in line with global best practices, there is a clearly established procedure for non-NAF aircraft to operate into and out of the runway in Makurdi, and that procedure is well known to all qualified pilots in Nigeria.

Indeed, many airlines had in the past adhered to the stipulated procedure and therefore successfully landed and taken off from the NAF runway in Makurdi. The procedure includes a written request to NAF headquarters Abuja for permission for a specific aircraft to operate into its airfield on a specific date and time, including the names of passengers and other necessary details.

In this case, there was indeed a request for permit by the Benue state government, dated 16 July 2018, for Aircraft with Registration Number 5N-FCT to land at NAF Base Makurdi on 16 July 2018. Although requests for landing permits are expected to reach NAF headquarters not later than two days before the desired landing date, the NAF went out of its way to expedite the process and accordingly granted the permit for aircraft with Registration Number 5N-FCT to land at NAF Base Makurdi on 16 July 2018.

However, at about 5pm on 16 July 2018, the NAF was verbally informed that there was a need to change the aircraft for which permission had already been issued, reportedly because the aircraft had developed snags. The NAF, therefore, asked for another written request, in line with the established procedure.

As at date, the NAF headquarters is yet to receive a written request for the replaced aircraft with Registration Number 5N-IZY to land at its Base in Makurdi.

“The NAF remains a highly professional and apolitical organization that would rather focus on its military duties. Consequently, the NAF wishes to implore all concerned to desist from dragging the name of the NAF into partisan politics.