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Benin Airport saga: The delusion of impunity

Josef Omorotionmwan
UNDER normal circumstances, reasonable people would not expect to be pressurised to remit the money they have collected on behalf of others to their rightful owners.

But here, we are apparently faced with a situation that is not normal and where people are perhaps not fully reasonable – the case of Edo State Internal Revenue Service, EIRS versus Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN.

Over the years, FAAN deducted Pay As You Earn, PAYE, tax amounting to N14,937,333.98 from the salaries of its staff in Edo State for onward remittance to EIRS. FAAN has been sitting on this money and it was not to be moved by the tons of demand notices from EIRS.

Close to the point of frustration, EIRS had to seek help with the recovery of the money. It approached the State High Court. Sequel to the exparte motion in Suit no. B/RC/51/2013 dated May 3, 2013, EIRS secured a court order to seal up the administrative block of FAAN to compel FAAN to remit the deductions.

Benin-Airport

EIRS officials arrived at the Administrative Block of FAAN as early as 8.00 a.m. on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 to execute the Court Order. Having put the Administrative Block under lock and key, the enabling order was conspicuously displayed at the entrance gate.

We invite Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole:  “The problem with Nigeria is not immunity but impunity as people often violate the law and get away with it”. When the Airport Station Manager, Mr. Sunday Ayodele, arrived for duty and met the Administrative Block sealed up, he immediately took the fight to integrity.

He personally shut down the entire airport by locking the airport gates and directing that all lights at the terminal be switched off.

This was the height of impunity and an open invitation to treason. But for the careful handling of the situation, it would have easily been blown out of proportion, capable of reducing the type of situation currently in Rivers State to a child’s play.

The Airport Manager attempted to disgrace and blackmail everybody, including himself, the State Commissioner of Police, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, etc, to believe his twisted version of the events on that fateful day.

Coming soon after the grounding of Oshiomhole’s aircraft at the airport, this false alarmist had carefully crafted his design so that when he announced that Oshiomhole had closed down the Benin Airport, it would be seen as a reprisal mission.

Ayodele’s behaviour is seditious in every respect. A man who had the temerity to shut down an airport could as well pull down a presidential aircraft, with the President, his ministers and the state governors on board, if he had an opportunity to do so. At the time he shut down the Benin Airport, a Benin-bound plane could have been airborne. To Ayodele, it would have been fair-game if such a plane crash-landed and fell to pieces at the Ugbogui axis of the State.

It is perhaps only in Nigeria that a leader would jet to Benin City after midnight to get an electoral officer to sign and declare a fake result; and ferry the electoral officer to Akure to continue to perpetuate evil. Such evil men should be removed from the system. Similarly, the continued retention of Ayodele in Benin or merely posting him to another station to continue his trade would be a capital error. He should be sent packing, if only to serve as deterrence to others.

We are also marveled at how fast the IG is turning the State Police Commissioners to zombies. Without getting full details of the case, the IG ordered the arrest of Chief Oseni Elamah, the Executive Chairman of EIRS. Initial entreaties to the Police Commisioner for his release fell on deaf ears because “the order for his arrest came from above”. The role of the IG in ordering Elamah’s arrest was also an act of impunity.

The case for state and local police is becoming attractive. We shall get there. In some of the advanced democracies where police is a subject for municipalities and counties, police chiefs are elected at large.

The people vote – not on political party basis but at large – to decide who should be their police chief. Then, such a police boss can be truly independent. For now, we must contend with what we have – a unitary police force that must obey the master’s voice, from Sokoto to Lagos; Maiduguri to Calabar!

Take away the dirty role of the Airport Manager and the not-too-clean role of the police in the Benin Airport saga and you will find that the other players clearly deserve commendation: In the face of open provocation, the EIRS officials maintained their cool. Even when Ayodele turned himself to one man riot squad, attacking every journalist and everybody in sight, they were calm.

Again, in narrating his ordeal, Chief Elamah stated how the Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Michael Oghiadomhe promptly got in touch with him. One could dismiss this as “Kukuruku parapo”, but for us it goes to the very heart of good inter-governmental relations.

In contrast, it cannot be said that there are not many Rivers State indigenes at the corridors of power in Aso Rock who could have intervened in the Rivers State situation to prevent it from escalating into the proverbial mad man’s big fire when he only struck a single match.

In the early hours of Wednesday, July 31, 2013, the Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. George Uriesi led a most powerful team of his management staff to Oshiomhole, to smoothen out rough edges.

Bright and early on Friday, August 2, 2013, Oshiomhole was already at President Jonathan’s breakfast table where both men finally wrote the footnotes of the Benin Airport saga. You can’t beat that. All’s well that ends well.

In all this, one lesson stands out: Organisations must learn to promptly remit collected taxes to their owners!

 


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