The Benue State Government and Nigerian Air Force (NAF) over the weekend were at daggers drawn over an alleged ban placed on the airport, which is a military airfield.
While the state government accused the Federal Government of planning to place a flight ban on the airport in order to expose the state governor, Samuel Ortom, to attacks on the road, the air force explained that there was no such plan but only a temporary closure to pave way for repairs.
This is coming days after Ortom disclosed that an intelligence report at his disposal showed that Fulani herdsmen were planning to ambush his convoy on the Makurdi-Lafia Road, kill his security aides, abduct him and kill him inside the bush.
In a statement, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Terver Akase, disclosed that the Federal Government was planning to “cage” the governor with a flight ban and force him to use the roads.
He claimed that the Federal Government had banned all private and chartered flights to and from Makurdi, a claim the air force, which manages the airfield, denied.
Akase said, “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.’’
Akase also accused the Federal Government of unduly harassing Ortom and called on Nigerians to prevail on the Federal Government to stop the needless harassment.
“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,’’ the governor’s aide said.
However, the air force has denied the alleged flight ban on the Makurdi Airport.
Vanguard quoted Air Officer Commanding Tactical Command, Nigerian Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, as saying that the temporary closure of the airport followed a 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.
He added that a notice was issued to close the airport based on this.
Amao said that the closure 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,” he noted.