BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin-City
THE prevailing political tension in the nation as a result of the factionalization of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum became messier yesterday, as the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), grounded the chartered helicopter which was meant to convey Governor Adams Oshiomhole to Anambra state for the burial ceremony of the wife of Senator Ben Obi,the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Mrs Colette Obi.
The drama started when the pilot, Captain James Manahash, who was already airborne with the governor and his entourage was ordered to fly back to the Benin airport five minutes after taking off over what they described as failure to pay aerodrome and landing fees.
The pilot was threatened to fly back or the aircraft will be banned from flying. It was learnt that the governor who observed the argument between the pilot and the NAMA officials, prevailed on the pilot to come back and answer the call so as to sort out the issues raised.
But to the chagrin of the Governor and the pilot, they were delayed for over one hour thirty minutes even after the pilot paid the landing and aerodrome fees. After waiting for such hours, a visibly angry Oshiomhole entered his vehicle and zoomed off. Saturday Vanguard later learnt that he headed to his village at Iyamho. He declined comment.
When newsmen met with the pilot, Captain Manahash, he was shocked by the incident, asserting that, “I have been a pilot for 35 years out of which 7 years in Nigeria. So I was surprised when I was recalled back to the airport after we took off. The Governor prevailed on me to come back and answer them. When we got back I was told to pay landing and aerodrome fees which ordinarily we could pay later.
“Even after completion of the process of payment, we were still delayed for one hour fifteen minutes with the governor still seated in the aircraft. Ordinarily payment of such fees doesn’t take more then ten minutes. This is not the first time I have been flying the governor and we have never witnessed such a disappointment. It is really shocking” he stated.
Saturday Vanguard learnt however that Oshiomhole’s ordeal might not be unconnected with the on-going onslaught against Governors who are perceived to be in support of Governor Amaechi’s re-election as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
It was learnt that Oshiomhole was the one who insisted during the NGF election that the governors should see themselves as democrats by conducting election for the NGF chairmanship, rather than consensus candidate which the pro Jonathan people were pushing for.
This it was learnt did not go down well with the anti Amaechi governors who had adopted Governor Jonah Jang as their chairman.
However, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media, Prince Kaseem Afegbua, who reacted to the incident, asserted that “ I think the government of the day is competing with too many crisis and it is disturbing that governors are no longer respected, or recognized even in their own domain or when it is known that they were duly elected by the people.
“How else do you explain the role of NAMA clerk who grounded the governor’s aircraft and prevented him from keeping his appointment in Anambra state because he is acting out a script that has become the rule of engagement by a dictatorial PDP regime. We remain unprovoked because we are civilized people” he stated.
When contacted on telephone, Mr Okolie of NAMA, told Saturday Vanguard, “I don’t have anything for you.
The Managing Director of the OAS Helicopters, Mr Everest Nnaji, who was contacted, expressed disbelief over the incident, saying that, “I am still making calls to find out exactly why they did not allow the pilot fly the helicopter conveying the governor to Anambra state. I am really angry, I don’t know why they did that and that is why I am still trying to make contacts because we have no problems with NAMA”.