Rivers admits ownership of grounded plane, Reps calls FG’s action political

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The House of Representatives has waded into the ongoing drama between the Presidency and the Rivers State Government over the grounding of the private jet belonging to the state government, describing the action of the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority as ‘political and a witch-hunt of perceived opponents.’

This comes even as the Rivers State government has finally admitted to being the owners of the Bombardier B700 Global Express aircraft which has been in the eye of the storm when it was allegedly grounded at the Akure Airport a week ago while on his way back from the burial of the late Ekiti State Deputy Governor, Mrs Funmi Olayinka.

The House therefore mandated its committees on Justice and Aviation to investigate the circumstances of the incident and report back within one week.

The resolution was sequel to a motion of urgent national importance, moved by Honourable Ahmed Idris, who described the incident as “detrimental to any democracy and tends towards dictatorship and draconian tendencies typical of the military era.”

He added that such action on the part of NAMA “raises serious issues as to the abuse of powers by the executive and the use of state machinery to with-hunt perceived political opponents.”

The Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mrs Ibim Semenitari, released a statement in Port-Harcourt which was circulated among the media, on Tuesday, explaining the that the Bank of Utah in the USA is the trustor of the aircraft.

This was in response by an accusation from the Felix Obuah-led executive council of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State who had accused the state government of perpetrating fraud with the purchase of the aircraft in a press briefing on Monday and gave the state government a 48-hour ultimatum to explain the status of the aircraft and its ownership.

Obuah was reacting to a report he claimed to have obtained from one of the nation’s aviation regulatory agencies, which had indicated that the aircraft did not belong to Rivers State government and had operated illegally in the country over time.

But Semenitari explained in the statement that the state government had to register the aircraft as a US aircraft for ease of operations, adding that to qualify for an N registration, an operator had to be an American citizen.

“Aircraft N 566 RS arrived Nigeria and has been operating since October 2012. It was bought by Rivers State government and registered as a US aircraft in the first instance, to preserve value and provide ease of operation and sourcing of available pilots,” she said.

Meanwhile, reactions have continued to trail the grounding of the aircraft, with a former commandant of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd), saying that the aviation agencies have exposed the country to ridicule.

Ojikutu alleged that in an attempt to compound the issue at hand and implicate itself, the aviation regulatory agency said the licence of the aircraft had expired since April 2, 2013.

He said it would be a big indictment if it was true that the papers of the aircraft had expired almost a month before the aircraft was grounded, even as he added that it portended serious problem to safety and security of the country.

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