June 18, 2009

Impounded plane: DMI takes over probe

By Chris Ochayi & AbdulSalam Muhammad
ABUJA — THE Directorate of Military Intelligence, (DMI), yesterday took over investigations into the circumstances surrounding the cargo plane impounded Wednesday in Kano, loaded with arms and ammunition.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has demanded explanations from Equatorial Guinea on its position on the cargo plane.

The development arose from confessional statements allegedly made by the crew members arrested shortly after discovery of the illegal cargo of the aircraft.

Dependable sources close to military authorities disclosed in Abuja that President Umaru Yar’Adua has ordered the State Security Service (SSS), initially handling investigations to hand over the main investigations in the matter to the DMI with a view to getting to the roots of the matter faster.

To this end, the crew members of the cargo aircraft said to be seven, according to the source, have been handed over to the DMI and were subjected to series of interrogations to determine the truth behind their claim that the plane was actually heading to Equatorial Guinea, but only stopped over in Nigeria to refuel when it ran into trouble with Nigerian authorities.

Vanguard further gathered that the Nigerian who gave permission to the plane to land is still undergoing interrogation by the SSS on why he did not take orders from his superior officers before allowing the plane to land for refueling.

The cargo plane was said to be loaded eight crates-load of arms and ammunition including howitzers, rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars.

The plane, with registration number UR-CAK, which arrived in Nigeria on Wednesday morning from the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine, was allegedly heading to Equatorial Guinea and it stopped over in Kano at about 4:00am to refuel.

The plane ran into troubled waters after refueling when officials of the Nigeria Customs Service as well as Immigration Service, allegedly noticed some suspicious information supplied by the crew in the flight discharge form and demanded to know the content of the plane following the crew’s refusal to declare what the cargo plane was carrying, despite the fact that it was not stated on the form accompanying the cargo.

The DMI, according to security sources, is investigating the possibility that the seized weapons may be intended for one of the many armed groups in the Niger Delta.

The need for interrogation became very important, the source said, because of the fact that the plane was Russian-made, and that most of the weapons seized by the Joint Task Force (JTF) from militants during raids and confrontations, so far were found to be Russian-made, in most cases.

FG queries E-Guinea

A highly placed source who spoke under condition of anonymity stated that a letter to this effect was dispatched through the Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to Nigeria, asking the government of that nation to clarify the ownership of the seized weapons.

The source further confided in Vanguard that security men interrogating the crew members to uncover the veracity of the confessions they allegedly made are said to be leaving no stone unturned as they are working on other fronts to ascertain the truth.

The sources also spoke of intervention by the Ukrainian Ambassador to Nigeria who was due to arrive Kano from Abuja yesterday to ascertain whether the crew members were truly Ukrainian nationals as widely reported.