•FG planning to cage Ortom with flight ban – Benue govt
•Military didn’t ban flights to Makurdi Airport – NAF
•NOTRAM was issued for closure for aircraft, landing facilities’ repairs
•FAAN has no powers over military bases
By Kingsley Omonobi, Peter Duru & Lawani Mikairu
MAKURDI — Benue State government and the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, were, weekend, locked in a war of words over Makurdi Airport.
While Benue government alleged that the federal government was planning a flight ban on the airport, which is a military base, to expose Governor Samuel Ortom to banditry on the highways, NAF insisted that the airport was not banned but only closed to pave way for repairs, which would only be temporary.
Chief Press Secretary to Benue State governor, Terver Akase, alleged that the federal government was planning to cage his principal with a flight ban.
Akase said this a day after Ortom alleged that herdsmen were plotting to kill him.
The governor’s spokesman alleged that the federal government had banned all private and chartered flights to and from Makurdi, Benue State capital, making it impossible for Ortom to fly if he intended to abandon the roads.
“The governor has been getting information that there was a plan to ambush him along the Makurdi-Lafia road, disarm or kill his security men, and abduct him into the bush and finish him there.
“The governor has such fears, and to confirm the fears is the federal government’s circular, directing the ban on all private flights, and all chartered flights to and from Makurdi. That is to make it impossible for him to take flight if he intends to abandon the roads.
“We suspect it is a target on him because it has never happened before. Private flights have never been banned in the Makurdi airport before. It is a military airport but other people use it, private individuals use it.
“We are made to know that the ban is strictly on the Makurdi route, on Makurdi Airport that chartered flights and private flights shouldn’t land in Makurdi. We suspect it is a plan to cage him and prevent him from using air routes out of the state,’’ he said.
Akase asked Nigerians to mount pressure on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to stop intimidating the governor.
“He is a law abiding citizen of this country and he believes in conventional means of resolving issues. That’s why we’re calling on the federal government and other Nigerians of good will to prevail on the relevant authorities to stop the harassment of Governor Ortom.
“He has had enough of this harassment. He is a governor of the people for goodness sake. He has a right to lead his people without harassment. We are asking Nigerians to prevail on those tormenting Governor Ortom to leave him alone,’’ he said.
The governor had alleged that the current administration singled him out for persecution because he dumped the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, for Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, an allegation the government has denied.
Reacting to the development, last night, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, said it had no powers to regulate the operations of air fields controlled by the military.
Managing Director of FAAN, Engr. Saleh Dunoma, who stated this in a telephone enquiry, said military aviation facilities were not within the control of FAAN.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Air Force Tactical Command, Makurdi, in its reaction, yesterday, said Makurdi Airport was not banned for both private and commercial flights.
Air Officer Commanding Tactical Command, Nigerian Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, told Vanguard that following the decision of the NAF headquarters to carry out repairs on some of its aircraft and landing facilities that needed retrofitting, the standard operating procedure for military repairs of such nature, a notice had to be issued to stop flight into the airport.
He said it involved issuing a ‘NOTAM’, which is the issuance of a notice to all commercial and private airline operators to the effect that the Makurdi Military Air Base would be closed for repairs of military facilities used in security operations on several fronts.
“This has been communicated to all appropriate authorities. There is no ban of private or commercial flights. It is just for a period of time. As soon as the facilities are back in shape, the military air base would be re-opened,” the AOC said.
Reacting to the development, Chairman of the Benue Tribal leaders, Chief Edward Ujege, said: “We condemn the federal government’s decision to bar civil aviation to operate in the Benue airport because even in other countries civil aircraft are allowed to use military airports.
“I was a staff of Nigerian Airport Authorities and we had a terminal building in that place and it was jointly used by the military and the civil aviation.
“There is a parking lot and a taxi way into the airport. I belief this is all part of the Miyetti Allah plan, which is being aided by the federal government to make sure that they finish with Benue state.
“We completely condemn it because there is no reason the Air Force will refuse the civilian aircraft from using the airport, especially if there is a threat to the life of a Governor because when I was with them there was a terminal building.’’
On his part Senator Joseph Waku said: “The federal government’s embargo at this particular time is very suspicious. It is not good for our nation’s security.
“I think it is not in the best interest of the people. I know that it is a military facility or airport. There has been permission for the civil aviation to use that facility as done across the world. The federal government has taken that decision at a time of security challenge by insurgents.
“Whoever advised the government on that is not doing the country any good and the decision by the federal government at a time when there are insinuations that there are plans to assassinate Governor Ortom on the Makurdi- Abuja road, had left us with the option that the insinuation is not far from the truth.
“So I think the federal government should reconsider their decision on the matter because placing an embargo at this particular time is not good for our nation’s security and Benue State in particular.
“I know that the federal government should not be used as an instrument of vendetta against any opponent because there is also this bragging from some quarters that they would do anything possible to crumble and destabilise the state government and particularly Governor Ortom as a person because he defected from the APC.
So every action of the federal government at this time, whether in good fate or not can be looked upon as a political victimization.’’
On his part, former Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, said: “Actually, I have not read the circular or decision to bar civil aircrafts from landing on Makurdi Airport, but it is something that has been in the public domain for sometime now.
“If it is true, it is rather unfortunate, because from time the Benue populace have been using the airport for convenience especially if you realize that we don’t have any nearby airport close to Benue. The nearest is actually Enugu.
“So you will realize that the military airport in Makurdi has been of tremendous help to the Benue people.
“I remembers that during the last administration, arrangement was concluded with Associated Airlines to fly on certain days to Benue State three times week or so.
“That was a a deliberate action to alleviate the suffering of Benue people who travel on the road, especially because of the deplorable condition of our roads or risks or who had urgent businesses to take care of.
“I think the decision to bar the use of the airport should be reconsidered and reviewed in the interest of the generality of the people of the state and other Nigerians who use it as well.
“I think that is the way to go, because the world over civil aviation use military airport facility and we have been using the Makurdi facility without any problems.
“So I think it is not in the interest of the Benue people to stop the use of the airport by civilians. If as it is being speculated, if it is as a result of the disagreement between the State government or Governor Ortom and the federal government, as being speculated, them it is politics taken too far.
“In spite of political differences, the federal government is the father of all. Once selections have been concluded and the APC have won the elections, the government of APC should be government of all Nigerians irrespective of political affiliations.”