19 Dec 2014

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The ease with which the arm-bearing aircraft is released is worrying

The recent seizure and the sudden release of a Chad-bound Russian arms cargo plane by the federal government penultimate Monday, still leaves much to ponder about. The question still begging for answer is: were all necessary steps taken to ensure that critical questions leading to the seizure and detention of the aircraft in the first place were satisfactorily answered?

According to the federal authorities, the Russian-built Antonov Aircraft was seized early Saturday, December 6, 2014, at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA). Records showed that the plane departed Bangui, Central Africa Republic on the fateful day for Ndjamena, Chad, but had to make emergency landing in Kano as Ndjamena airport runway was said to be busy at the time. Explaining the incident, Nigeria’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Adesola Amosu, had said at the time: “We followed standard procedure to check, and we did not get adequate clarification from the crew. One of the issues has to do with language.”

However, as the Nigerian public anxiously waited for more details about the detained aircraft, the same Air Force Chief who had earlier said he would not be in a hurry to release the aircraft until after a thorough investigation, announced within 48 hours that the Russian plane was being released to continue its flight to Ndjamena. Meanwhile, the seized plane was said to have been carrying an assortment of goods some of which happened to be military hardware.

In the words of the French defence attaché to Nigeria Col. Marc Humbert, “what we have on board are two gazelle helicopters for light liaison, a rover armoured-plated SUV for VIPs, propeller blades and some items for entertainment.” In fact the French ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, admitted that his country chattered the Russian aircraft to help it convey some military hardware from Bangui to N’djamena. He, however, denied there were arms and ammunition aboard the plane.

Under international law, the seizure of an aircraft that strays into the airspace of another sovereign nation is a normal practice. It is equally an accepted standard practice to insist on full disclosure of the contents of the aircraft’s cargo before it could be released. But to the extent that these are not normal times, nothing should be taken at face value.

Not long ago, a private aircraft operating from Nigeria was seized in South Africa together with the US$9.3million cash it carried which according to Nigeria’s federal government was meant for the procurement of arms for Nigeria. It took several weeks before Pretoria could release the aircraft. And that was after inexplicable blackmail and intrigues on the part of the South African authorities to smear Nigeria’s image. So, why were the Nigerian authorities in such haste to allow the Russian aircraft proceed with its cargo? Besides, if it had been an Abuja-bound aircraft that was intercepted in Ndjamena, with similar cargo, would the Chadian authorities have released the plane with such dispatch?

Many Nigerians believe that the hurried nature of the release of the Russian-made aircraft was just to please the French government as was obvious in the statement by the Chief of Air Staff. Yet it is common knowledge that the French have been less than cooperative with Nigeria in our war against terror. To make matters worse, Chad could not have been considered a candidate for diplomatic niceties given the fact that Ndjamena had been severally fingered negatively in a number of cases relating to Nigeria’s anti-insurgency war.

We are therefore of the opinion that the Nigerian government acted with undue haste in this matter. At a time when Nigeria is battling insurgency it would not have hurt anyone if the government had waited a little longer for detailed investigation prior to releasing the aircraft.

Tags: Editorial

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