The federal government has released the controversial Russia-made but French owned Antonov aircraft, which was impounded at Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Nigeria, enroute to N’Djamena, Chad.
The Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshall Adesola Amosu, disclosed this at the NAF Headquarters, Abuja, during a joint press conference with the French Defence Attaché (DA) to Nigeria, Col. Marc Humbert.
Amosu said although Nigeria and France have a year-long arrangement called ‘Block Clearance’, whereby both countries’ aircraft are allowed to land or use the airspace under certain conditions, the seized aircraft did not follow proper procedure required in the arrangement.
He noted that NAF and other relevant agencies took the right, the most preemptive and proactive step by impounding the aircraft for proper investigation, owing the current situation of global terrorism of which Nigeria is facing as its own local challenge in the North-east that borders both Chad and Niger Republic.
He said: “The situation we have is that on December 6, 2014, an Antonov 124 aircraft with registration RA 82038 departed Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) for destination to N’djamena, Chad.
“However, from our records, we had no such clearance to operate into Kano State although with the French government, we do have a ‘Block Clearance’ to cover up most flights throughout the year”.
“This is what we and the French government had but the Block Clearance that we do have, has some exceptions tabulated on the document. About seven elements that ought to be avoided, when you operate using the Block Clearance”, he added.
Amosu noted, “One of the conditions is that the aircraft must not be bearing toxic waste, or dangerous materials; should not be carrying nuclear or bacterial or any issue used for chemical weapons and troops must not be carried”.
“We are mainly talking about a situation that would bring in controversial equipment and human beings. That would constitute weapons of war in other areas. It landed in Kano State, the NAF has a responsibility to be sure that all aircrafts that land at our airports are duly searched to confirm that they have authorisation to land”.
The Air Force Chief insisted that Nigerian acted in the right direction by not allowing the situation to slip-by given the circumstances.
He further assured that having concluded the necessary investigation and satisfied that what was on the aircraft did not violate the agreement of Block Clearance with the French government, Nigeria would be ordering the release of the air craft to head to its final destination in Chad.
Not just Nigeria, he said, but all Air Forces of other nations have this responsibility that duly designated aircraft are allowed.
According to him, NAF “did exactly what we needed to do, but we did not get adequate clarification from the crew. One of the issues has to do with language, which is not new, it happens in some situations.
“We just got the correspondence, which just came in from the French government that the items on board belong to them and we respected that, since we have had established good relationship with the French government and we do value that.
“But by this press briefing we are releasing the aircraft as soon as we finish from here”, he stated.
Fielding questions from journalists, Amosu said: “This is what we expect from the international community,” adding that since it’s a global war on terrorism, every nation should rise up to it.
Also speaking, Humbert denied the allegations that the aircraft was carrying weaponry and other materials in violation of the Block Clearance arrangement.
He said: “There were no weapons on the two helicopters, no arms, no weaponry, one vehicle, and the spare parts for the helicopters, and for the fan, there was some Christmas gifts for the soldiers to lift their spirit in Ndjamena.
“That was what we have on board gazelle helicopter and for light liaison. A rover amoured plated for VIPs, propeller blades and some items for entertainment. We verified that those items are not going to be used to cause trouble”.
Speaking further, Humbert explained that, “the flight was intended to go from Bangui to Ndjamena, adding that the problem was when they were approaching Ndjamena, the airport was too busy and the run way was not available for landing.
“So the airport control authorities in Ndjamena told them to go to the nearest available airport for landing, and the standard for international flights is that you have to go to an international airport, of which the next one is Kano State”.
Consequently, he noted that the thing is that when you are in such an emergency flight, you don’t have to wait to be cleared with the embassy before you take a decision.
Both the French and Russian embassies in Abuja had released explanations concerning their involvement in the saga.
Although the Russian embassy initially denied that her country had anything to do with the plane, it later admitted that it belonged to a Russian firm but it had nothing to do with the cargo.
French Ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, had said in a statement that the Antonov plane had to divert to Kano to refuel, and to take off again to reach Njamena Airport.
He said the flight was covered by a diplomatic clearance by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja and that the commercial plane was forced to land at the Kano airport because of dense air traffic at Ndjamena airport, Chad.
An exclusive fact made available to PRNigeria on the matter have it that crew members of the aircraft would be released to the Russian Embassy in Abuja but that the explanations so far given by the French Embassy concerning the source and destination of the cargo were less than convincing.
However, a top security source insisted “Nigeria has no reason to release the aircraft and its cargo until investigation is concluded.”
“In view of suspicions in some quarters of active collaboration with Boko Haram terrorists by some French speaking neighbouring countries, it has become pertinent for Nigeria to be conscious and be more careful in these matters”, our source declared.