It was days of fury in Nigeria’s aviation circles since Sunday because Nigerian musician, Naira Marley was flown from Lagos to Abuja and back to Lagos despite the closure of Nigeria’s airspace to commercial flights since March 23, 2020.
Many industry stakeholders and other Nigerians were peeved by that seeming repudiation of the government’s policy.
But on Monday, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika suspended indefinitely the Executive Jet Services Limited, which provided charter service to Naira Marley and his entourage.
The Minister had explained that the approval he gave for a judge to be airlifted to Abuja was utilised by the company to provide charter service to Naira Marley, but the company was in a quandary when it was told that it flew Naira Marley to Abuja.
Executive Jet Services Limited said it later realised that the musician was flown to Abuja with a different name in the manifest. Realizing this, the company became contrite and apologised to the Minister.
The Chairman and CEO of Executive Jet Services, Dr. Sam Iwuajoku explained to THISDAY that when he saw the names in the manifest, which included: Adewunmi Segun, Chinonso Opara, Fashola Babatunde, Fashola Adeshina and Adeyeye Tobi, Michael Opeyemi, Idowu Emmanuel, Seyi Awonuga, Wisdom Intoto and Abayomi Akin; he erroneously believed that it was the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and his entourage that were travelling, not knowing that it was a mistaken identity.
The incident has however raised other issues about security profiling at the airport and this has prompted the company to take a decision to profile every person before gaining access to the terminal. Iwuajoku said although a final decision would be taken after on-going investigation, passengers would be profiled in accordance to international standard practices.
Aviation security experts have also expressed their views and called for the review of procedures at the Nigerian airports, which would include thorough passenger screening, adding that in charter services every passenger’s provenance must be identified.
In a press statement signed by its Public Relations Manager, Babatunde Olonade, Executive Jet Services Limited said: “We have since realised the mistake made by our ground crew and a full scale investigation has been launched to determine what transpired with a view to avoid such mistakes going forward.
“We have also sent a letter of apology to the Honourable Minister of Aviation who had graciously granted us a permit ref: FMA/ATMD/0175/v/v/1268 dated 11th June 2020.
“It is necessary however to state as follows: The flight was originally billed to ferry Judge Adefope Okojie to Abuja on Sunday 14th, 2020 as requested and permit was granted based on the application. Early on Saturday, 13 June 2020, we got information that owing to exigencies of duty, the Honourable Justice Okojie had departed Lagos for Abuja by another flight.
“A few moments later, our airport staff reported that there is a charter flight to Abuja and that the passengers were already at the lounge. The passenger manifest had 10 names, including Fashola, Babatunde, which name bears resemblance to that of the Minister of Works. “The Minister is a Lagosian and our staff reasonably assumed he was going to Abuja along with his aides and officials.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we were too eager to fly a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, apparently without strictly observing all necessary protocols. We express sincere apology for this oversight as we promise that this would not happen again.
“The management of Executive Jets has no issues with Naira Marley and his team. Indeed, we hold all our fliers in very high esteem at all times. The seemingly disparaging reference in the letter to the Minister was inadvertent and regrettable,” the statement said.
Naira Marley in reaction to the incident alleged that the crew that airlifted him and his entourage are his fans, known as Marlians. Although such statements may not be taken seriously but reacting to the incident, aviation security experts cautioned on insider threats, which is when airport staff connived with passengers or others to breach security at the airport.
Many industry stakeholders are calling for other means of identification beyond the ID card in order to strictly monitor and identify the right persons that have access to airport facilities in order to avoid security incursion at the airport by the wrong people.
The Minister of Aviation during the Presidential Taskforce of COVID-19 press briefing reiterated that only essential flights are allowed to take place during the closure of the airspace to commercial flights and insisted that the breaches were an exception that would not happen again.