By SONI DANIEL, REGIONAL EDITOR, NORTH, OKEY NDIRIBE & EMMAN OVUAKPORIE
ABUJA—The House of Representatives, yesterday, cleared Rivers State Governor, Chubuike Rotimi Amaechi, of any wrong doing over the incidents that culminated in the grounding of the state-owned Bombardier Aircraft by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.
Besides, the House also said Rivers State is the bonafide owner of the B700 Global Express Aircraft with Registration Number N565RS with a valid insurance cover that will expire in 2015, contrary to claims by the aviation agencies that the aircraft belongs to a foreign country and has no valid papers.
The decisions were contained in the report of the committee empanelled by the House of Representatives, on April 30, 2013 to probe the circumstances relating to the grounding of the Rivers State aircraft by the NCAA.
The Committee on Aviation and Justice sat on May 14, 2013 and took evidence from officials of the NCAA, NAMA, Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, officials of Caverton Helicopters and those of the Rivers State government.
The report of the committee, which Vanguard obtained yesterday, indicted NCAA and NAMA for displaying gross ineptitude in handling the issues that led to the grounding of the aircraft.
It also lambasted Caverton for feeding the aviation agencies with wrong information that led to the grounding of the aircraft without justification.
Asks AGF to prosecute Caverton for giving wrong information
For that action, the committee has directed the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, to initiate criminal prosecution against Caverton to serve as deterrent to others in the country.
The 11-page report jointly endorsed by its chairman on Justice, Ali Ahmed and his Aviation counterpart, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, noted with dismay that “the level of ineptitude of NCAA is glaring in many respects: failure to appreciate from a trust agreement that an aircraft belongs to a trustor-beneficiary even after their attention is drawn to it and even as other aircraft are registered in the name of the same trustee; non-detection of an expired flight clearance 24 days after the fact and the detection was triggered by an incident rather than as a matter of course; even if the fact of falsification of documents were true.
“It was unacceptable that NCAA did not detect this fact for over six months. Indeed NCAA boasted in a letter on April 29, 2013 that following the incident it undertook a due diligence of the status of the aircraft, but even then it failed to determine the issue of ownership and several others.
“Operational and other navigational charges were received by NAMA and FAAN and other agencies while operating the aircraft and receipts issued without raising alarm as to ownership of the aircraft by Rivers State government
“Perusal of the Trust Agreement between Rivers State Trustor and Bank of Utah Trustee would have shown this fact of ownership. It is distressing that NCAA and the Ministry still fail or refuse to appreciate this simple fact. But since the authorities did not raise ownership issue with several other aircraft having the name of Bank of Utah Trustees, this allegation is in bad faith and grossly unprofessional, as the owner, Rivers State government elected to register the aircraft in the U.S. to save money for the State and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.
Aircraft belongs to Rivers govt
“Rivers State government, through Caverton, applied to the Minister of Aviation to import and operate the aircraft in Nigeria but the application was not consummated, and so it is being operated in Nigeria as a foreign aircraft for private use.
“As from August 27, 2012 when it applied on behalf of Rivers State government to import the aircraft, Caverton maintained agency relationship with the government; although that relationship was abated shortly thereafter with regard to importation of the aircraft, other aspects of the agency relationship continued especially relating to applications for flight clearance. However, all relationships between the parties were brought to an end by Caverton’s letter of denunciated to NCAA dated April 26, 2013.
NCAA, NAMA culpable
“As owner and operator of the aircraft, neither Rivers State government nor its officials forged or falsified any document toward securing flight clearances or any other licence.
“Should top management of Caverton deny transacting business with Rivers State government despite its acquiescence of transactions between its member of staff and the Government, then its behaviour smacks of administrative laxity or negligence; alternatively, its behaviour lends credence to the assertion that it was pressured to deny the relationship.
“Caverton should be held accountable for providing information that led NCAA to ground the aircraft, contrary to provision of the law.
“Rivers State government operated its aircraft with expired clearance between April 2 and 26, 2013; but several other aircraft are suspected to be in similar situation; isolation of Rivers State government for reprimand becomes difficult to deny,” the report noted.
The report maintained “justifications for both the delayed start-up in Akure and the continued grounding of the aircraft in Port Harcourt amounted to taking an action and later shopping for reasons: the faulty declaration of manifest and failure to file flight plan ceased to be a reason immediately the Director-General of NAMA waived the infringement and permitted the aircraft to depart Akure, otherwise continuous citing manifest and flight plan violations as additional reasons for grounding the aircraft has serious implication for the Director-General; alleged fabrication of documents by Rivers State government was unsubstantiated.
“Having overlooked the Akure violation, the only justification known to law to warrant regulatory action against the aircraft is its operation with expired clearance between April 2 and 26, 2013; however, NCAA botched the opportunity to legally impose the sanction as it failed to give a written notice to Rivers State government as required by Section 35(5) Civil Aviation Act, Cap. C13 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004;
Ministry of Aviation exerts undue influence on NCAA, NAMA
“The handling by NAMA and NCAA of this violation and their response actions further confirm the previous findings of the Joint Senate and House Committee on Aviation on the crash of Dana Aircraft that the Ministry of Aviation exerts undue interference on routine operations of these agencies.
“That the House Committee on Aviation be mandated to scrutinize the reason for rampant foreign registration of aircraft by their owners and further investigate all private-use aircraft operating in the country with a view to sanitizing their operation and ensuring enforcement of the law in a society that is democratic.”
But satisfied that the aviation agencies had committed serious blunders in handling the Rivers aircraft issue, the committee recommended that the state government should be allowed to comply with the necessary conditions for granting of all required permits and licences of Rivers State Government-owned Bombardier B700 Global Express Registration Number N565RS.
It warned the Ministry of Aviation to desist from undue interference in the day-to-day operations of the aviation regulatory authorities as envisaged by the law while urging the agencies to operate professionally and ensure compliance with international best practices in the industry.