· Says it wasn’t true we didn’t apply for landing permit

By Gboyega Akinsanmi

The Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Tuesday recounted how officials of the federal government denied southern leaders landing permit to attend a conference the Middle Belt Forum organised on restructuring in Makurdi, Benue State on Monday.

Specifically, the organisation faulted the claim by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) that the southern leaders did not apply for landing permit as required, noting that they duly applied for the permit in line with the directive of the airport authorities.

Afenifere’s National Treasurer, Chief Olasupo Shonibare, and its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, gave the account in separate telephone interviews Tuesday, lamenting that they were kept waiting at the Abuja Airport for hours on Monday.

The airport authorities had on Monday prevented the southern leaders including the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo; Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; and the South-south leader, Chief Edwin Clark, from flying to Makurdi, Benue State on a chartered flight.

In a statement by its Director of Public Relations & Information, Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, issued in Abuja Tuesday, however, NAF denied that the allegation was politically motivated as presented in the media.

In a conversation with THISDAY Tuesday, Shonibare explained that the southern leaders approached two different airlines before they eventually realised that the airport authorities were acting on the instruction from the above.

He said: “The first airline knew there was already an order that we should not be allowed to Makurdi, Benue State. As a result, the airline claimed there was bad weather. But the airline was already aware that we would be denied landing permit.

“Unknowingly, we approached the second airline. Immediately, its staff started processing our request to fly to Makurdi on chartered flight. But midway, the airline management called Makurdi Airport, perhaps to get clearance.”

After the call, Shonibare explained that the airline management “directed that we should write an application for landing permit. At first, we protested the demand for an application for landing permit.

“We protested because we had been flying the chartered flight on the same route without writing an application for landing permit. One of us, a veteran ex-soldier, who was head of Nigerian military forces in Sudan, went to the commandant in Abuja.

“The commandant told us that it was part of new security measures in all Nigerian airports. Eventually, we agreed to write an application for landing permit. We immediately applied to the Airport Commandant in Makurdi.

“But the commandant told us that it was part of new security measures. He later told us that even if we wrote the application, it was not a guarantee for an approval. We then made further inquiries”.

At that point, the national treasurer noted that the answer they got obviously showed that the power that be “has given an order not to allow us fly to Makurdi on Monday. That is how we could not attend the Middle Belt Conference”.

In a separate interview, Odumakin faulted the claims of the airport authorities, noting that it “is not true we did not apply for landing permit. We applied for it”.

“We applied to the Airport Commandant in Makurdi. And Abuja Airport Commandant confirmed our application. After we properly applied for landing permit, we were told at the Abuja Airport that our application was not a guarantee for approval.

“At that point, we knew something was wrong because we had been flying the same route before without applying for landing permit,” he said.