BusinessDay

Did Rotimi Amaechi attempt to ‘steal’ Rivers aircraft?

Rivers State has exploded once again this time over breaking news from Germany by the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, who alerted the world how he “discovered” Rivers alleged missing aircraft.

The alert seems to resurrect and stir all warring parties and ‘war canoe houses’ into a verbal fight, all trying to either convince the world that the former governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, now minister of Transportation and a presidential hopeful, actually ‘stole’ an aircraft and parked it in faraway Germany or to prove it never happened.

Wike makes a discovery in Germany

A statement on Thursday, January 26, 2022, signed by Kelvin Ebiri, the media aide to Gov. Wike, seemed to shake the Rivers air space. It said Wike had just ‘discovered’ an aircraft belonging to the state in Germany. He said three million euro was needed to repair and fly it back.

The governor said the Rivers State government discovered it through intelligence. The governor said the act was carried out in the Amaechi Administration in 2012. Wike was chief of staff to Amaechi until 2011 before he was nominated by the Amaechi administration to serve as minister in Goodluck Jonathan government.

The governor said it was unconscionable for the immediate past administration to have surreptitiously taken a state-owned asset to Germany and abandon same there, without any documentation.

Wike, who led a delegation of Rivers leaders to General Atomics Aerotec in Munich, Germany, where the aircraft had been abandoned for 10 years, said efforts to repair and retrieve the aircraft has cost the State government over $3m (3m Euros).

Speaking during a meeting with Markus Froetschi, the General Manager, Business Development, General Atomics Aerotec, Gov Wike explained that his administration in a bid to recover State assets, had through intelligence discovered that the Legacy 600 jet purchased by the Dr Peter Odili administration was in Germany.

“When we came into office in 2015, we never had an idea that our plane was in your facility. It was a matter of asking questions before we got the information that Legacy 600 belonging to our state is in RUAG, before General Atomics. We tried to make contact with you and which you obliged. So, we want to sincerely thank you for not hiding anything from us, because it is the property of the State government.

“This plane was bought in 2003 by the government of Dr. Peter Odili, and by 2007 he had handed over to the next government which was my predecessor’s, now, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. While he was in office, by 2012 this plane was brought here. Reasons we do not know.”

Governor Wike said there does not exist any document indicating that the state-owned aircraft was flown to Germany and abandoned for inexplicable reasons.

“The issue is, why was there no documentation to let the incoming government know that we have this facility and we sent it to RUAG for inspection? Again, I do know from experience that inspection of such facility does not take more than six months. So, if it was brought in 2012, expectantly at least, by early 2013, the plane ought to have come back for use.”

Governor Wike, said he had to travel to Munich, Germany with a state delegation to prove that the Legacy 600 aircraft has been discovered and about to be returned to the State government.

The General Manager, Business Development, General Atomics Aerotec, Markus Froetschi, expressed delight that Gov Wike took the initiative to repair and return the aircraft to Nigeria for use by the State government. According to him, his company will be done with general maintenance work and deliver the aircraft to the State government by March.

The last man to manage the plane opens up

Tony Okocha, now a chief, who managed the plane last has opened up on the matter in a statement which the Government House in Port Harcourt is boosting through sharing. He said many persons had been calling him because he was the last person in the Amaechi government to manage the plane.

His words: “I also read the account of my former colleague, Hon. George Tolofari, former Commissioner of Transport, Rivers State, in the cabinet of then Gov. Amaechi. Both accounts stunned my imagination.

“On assumption of office as Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, ipso facto, responsible for the daily affairs of the Government House, including the management/travels of my Principal (Governor), I applied for and got approval for the running of the Government Aircraft (Legacy 600 brand) which expectedly, ought and was at the disposal of the Governor and/or his assignee.

“Consequent upon this, the aircraft hitherto managed by the Ministry of Transport, Rivers State, was surrendered and domiciled in the office of the Chief of Staff, Government House, Rivers State. It therefore came under the purview of my office, to fuel, maintain/service procure parts from (Embraier), and maintain the crew.

“These were effectively handled by my office including repairs and fuelling.

“Legacy 600 aircraft with Captain Okabie (now late), as the Chief Pilot, was the official Airbus of His Excellency, the Governor and/or his assignee, until the State Government took delivery of the procured bigger and more sophisticated Bombardier Aircraft.”

According to him, “The Bombardier aircraft became the more preferred because of its precision, weather-proof and other vogue technological advantages over the former. Both Aircraft were parked at the International Airport or the Airforce, depending on where was convenient within time specificity.

“To my surprise, while on the company of His Excellency, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, to the Airport on a fateful day, as I was wont to do, I discovered that the Legacy 600 Aircraft, wasn’t at it’s usual parking space.

“I immediately invited the (two pilots but none agreed knowing what happened to it). Dissatisfied with the accounts, I did a memo to the Governor, capturing my bewilderment and utter surprise for the disappearance of the Aircraft. That memo may have been treated but never minuted back to me.

Read also: Rivers to access N2.5bn CBN Covid-19 support fund

“I was in Cabinet between 2012/2015 as Chief of Staff, Government House. I attended All Executive Council Meetings. I never was privy to Exco decision to sell off the Legacy 600 Aircraft or exchange it for a better/superior model.

“Both the Old Legacy 600 and new Bombardier Aircraft, were run/managed by the Office of the Chief of Staff. Any or both of these aircraft never left the PH International Airport or the Airforce base, to nearby Lagos, without my knowledge as it was my responsibility to mobilise the crews for all checks and items including allowances, required to ensure a smooth flight.”

He further said that “The two government-owned aircraft ceased to be under the control and management of the Ministry of Transport, Rivers State, by the application and approval made by the Office of the Chief of Staff to the Governor and the Approval thereto.

“The disappearance of the aircraft was uncovered and officially communicated to my boss with no feed back, of course, the buck in decision-making in Government, doesn’t stop on my table.

“I wasn’t in the picture neither in knowledge of the movement of the aircraft to Germany for any reason whatsoever; needless therefore to say that the recovery of the aircraft in Germany, is stunning/jolting news to me.”

Wike, remember your 2015 press statement where you admitted the plane was in Germany – APC scribe

Reacting, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State said Gov. Wike had lied.

In a statement issued by the publicity secretary-elect of the APC, Chris Finebone, Wike had addressed the matter on assumption of office on May 29, 2015, by allegedly making a huge show about the two aircraft he inherited, one in Nigeria and another in Germany.

Quoting the governor’s specific words on the subject far back in 2015, the party referred to the publication of the matter in one of the national newspapers, the Vanguard through its then Port Harcourt Correspondent as published on June 21, 2015.

The title of the story was ‘Rivers to confirm state of govt aircraft in Germany’ with the story flowing along; thus, “Rivers State Government will today confirm the state of one of its aircraft allegedly abandoned by the Rotimi Amaechi administration in Germany.

“The state governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, weekend, during an interaction with newsmen at Government House, Port Harcourt, said he was sending an aide to Germany to know the state of the aircraft.

“He said that since there was no formal handover to his administration by former Governor Amaechi, it was difficult for the government to make categorical statement on the state of the aircraft.

“He said he gathered that one of the aircraft was lying somewhere in Germany while another one was at the Air Force Base, Port Harcourt. He said:

“We are sending somebody tomorrow (today). I got security information that the plane is parked somewhere in Germany. As I speak to you, there was no report, no handover to say this is where it is it. There is another one parked at the Air Force Base. I heard it will take about two months before it will be fixed.

“The governor added that his administration had recovered vehicles belonging to the state government which were allegedly looted.” Finebone gave the online link to the story.

Other critics have demanded for the particulars of the movement of the plane while others want to know the cost of moving a large delegation from Rivers State to Germany.

The critics said most of those who accompanied the governor to discover the plane were also those who were aware of the governor’s statement on the two aircraft way back in 2015.

Wike lied, we handed over the plane – Tolofari George, former Commissioner for Transport

Though the then chief of staff has disputed the right of the then Commissioner of Transport to give account of the plane, the then Commissioner, Tolofari George, insists on his right of ownership of the all government aircraft, no matter who managed any of them.

He stated: “It is simply not possible that a plane that was properly documented in the handover notes of the State Ministry of Transport (which I supervised as Commissioner) to the incoming administration in 2015, can be said to be secretly abandoned? How?

“When we got the new aircraft that the current government is using now, the older Legacy aircraft was sent to Germany for repairs and refurbishment and then to be sold to generate revenue for critical infrastructural projects in the state.

“To the Previous administration, there was no economic sense to keep and maintain two State planes. The cost was just too prohibitive, so the plan was to sell off the older Legacy plane.

“The plane was still in Germany at the time we handed over to the incoming administration. Everything was in the handover notes of the ministry of transport.

“In 2015 when the new administration took over, they claimed the same aircraft had been stolen. Today, they are now saying again that the aircraft was secretly abandoned.

“We can now all see that the issue is purely political and vindictive, hurling false allegations on the previous administration. That the Legacy aircraft was in RUAG, Germany was written in my handover note that is in the custody of the Rivers state government.

“In 2015 when they made an issue of Rivers state having two aircrafts, and that one has been stolen, I issued a press release which reiterated that the aircraft was in Germany.”

According to him, “Sometime last year, a staff of Rivers State government got in touch with me, asking questions about the aircraft. I clearly told him where it was. So, I just don’t understand what this current fuss is about?

“We couldn’t have taken an aircraft to Germany and just dumped it there and walked away without proper and formal documentation. Is RUAG, Germany a dumping ground?

“I recalled that Rivers State government had made an issue of the new aircraft currently in use, having a United States registration number, accusing the past government of wanting to steal the aircraft.

“They accused us of doing an N registration for the sole purpose of wanting to steal the aircraft. They made so much fuss at the time. But till date, which is nearly seven years after taking possession of the aircraft, they are still using the same foreign registration. Why haven’t they changed it to Nigerian registration?

“The whole information about that aircraft – the Legacy plane, was in the handover notes prepared by the ministry for the incoming administration in 2015, including the fact that the plane was to be sold, because it was more economical to sell it off.

No, Wike did not lie – Nsirim, Commissioner for Information

The present Commissioner for Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, seems to fume with anger, saying his boss did not lie.

He said: “We are truly amazed at the sheer desperation with which Tolofari and indeed several key figures of the previous administration, have been attempting with obvious futility, to deny the truth about the Rivers Aircraft in Germany.

“Gov. Wike’s statement is actually what has got the members of the previous administration falling all over themselves in a frenzy of denials and puerile clarifications to exonerate their principal.

“But of course, it is quite typical of the opposition to deploy its now tired diversionary tactic, by dwelling on the personality of Gov Wike and attempting to obfuscate the facts, whenever contentious issues of their mismanagement of Rivers funds and maladministration of the state are brought up.

“Everyone residing in Rivers State in 2015, is aware that the previous administration never intended and indeed had no intentions whatsoever, of handing over to the administration of Governor Wike, when it became incontrovertibly clear that he had won the 2015 Governorship election.”

Nsirim further said: “Tolofari in his watery defence had gone to great lengths, especially since he was the Commissioner for Transport in the previous administration, to insist stubbornly, but with scant corroboration, that the issue of the secretly abandoned Aircraft was properly articulated in the hand over notes passed down from the previous administration.

“We all know what manner of handover notes would be prepared by a roundly and comprehensively defeated outgoing administration that never intended to hand over and did not even hand over at all in accordance with the recognised and accepted modus operandi of the process.”

Indeed, Governor Wike summed it up aptly during his meeting with Markus Froetschi, Manager, Business Development, General Atomics Aerotec, when he said: “The issue is, why was there no documentation to let the incoming government to know that we have this facility and we sent it to RUAG for inspection.

“Again, I do know from experience that inspection of such facility does not take more than six months. So, if it was brought in 2012, expectantly at least, by early 2013, the plane ought to have come back for use.”

It is therefore better left to the imagination to conjecture what the intentions of the previous administration, which never intended to hand over in the first place, would have been, when they decided to ‘abandon’ the aircraft in Germany for three years and as the saying goes, you will have to use your tongue to count your teeth to get the answer on this matter.

Rivers State remains the only State in world history where a previous government refused to hand over in a democracy.

Rivers people will surely be grateful and satisfied that Governor Wike has succeeded in recovering this most valuable secretly abandoned huge asset for Rivers people. This is the true quality of a patriotic leader who is sincerely determined to give his people quality and resulted oriented leadership.

Did FAAN stop Rivers planes from flying?

Groups have dug up reports in an online newspaper which recorded the various verbal clashes between the Rivers State government under Amaechi and the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) then.

The Rivers plane had been stopped from flying and FAAN had accused the state government of not renewing the license. Many had said this was to stop Amaechi from campaigning to be vice present and to punish him for beating the presidency in winning again as chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).

Many thus wonder how the same authorities that stopped the Rivers planes to fly could miss when the plane flew to as far as Germany without FAAN knowledge, let alone other security agencies.

Wike hardest critic, Eze, fires off crucial questions

In a statement circulated late Thursday, January 27, 2022, to newsmen, Eze Chukwuemaka Eze, an Amaechi ally known for pelting pebbles at Wike, described the accusation as a cocktail of discordances.

He said Wike was chief of staff Chief of Staff to Amaechi, and thus was stocked with first-hand knowledge of every decision and action taken during the pendency of that administration over critical issues of public concern including the arrangement to fly the said Legacy 600 aircraft to Germany.

“The whole arrangement was made in 2011, before Amaechi sent his name to Jonathan for Ministerial appointment which he got on July 14, 2011. So by that he was still part of the administration when the decisions to send the Aircraft to Germany were taken”.

He repeated the reminder that Wike had mentioned the plane in Germany as far back as 2015 while addressing a press conference in Government House, Port Harcourt. It is even more embarrassing to the sensibilities of the lettered Rivers public to hear the Governor mention that €3million or about N1.5Bn have been expended on clearing the accumulated parking fee for the number of years the air craft was in Germany and even more millions of Euros have gone down the drain in servicing the engine ad general overhaul of the Legacy-600.

This was at a time Rivers aircraft (planes and choppers) were being grounded here and there by the FG, which Wike was part of, were prevented from flying into the country.

The security helicopter bought by the Amaechi administration was stopped from flying in and doing it job. Many still believe that the chance lost to deploy that asset is reason the state lost the opportunity to totally win the war against violence which fully returned when Wike took over and freed the men of violence and integrated them into his work plan.

He went on: It has become a pattern that each time Amaechi is to celebrate or to be honoured, the Wike administration would make a negative contribution from home by cooking up at least one scandal to spoil the Minister’s fun or poison the minds of the guests so as to scare them away from the man of honour, though without success.

Chief Eze called on Nigerians to be wary of the antics of Gov. Wike, whose docile posture represents a clear departure from the norms of leadership and democratic tenets in a progressive clime.

Eze pointed at certain weaknesses in the campaign of calumny through the aircraft saga and other scandals generated by Wike and urged the populace to beware of the man.

The APC kingpin stated that the both the Paulinus Nsirim and Tony Okocha’s injured defences of the Wike lies fail to address real issues such as; was Wike not Chief of Staff when the decision to take it to Germany was taken in 2012?

Did he or did he not address the press in 2015 saying he had found that aircraft was in Germany? Is the one of 2022 the 2nd Discovery of same plane?

Eze queried the claim of an Amaechi aide, Tony Okocha, the Chief of Staff that replaced Wike at Government House, who has now defected. Eze said for Tony Okocha to say the Commissioner of Transport had no right to do hand over note on the air stocks; does applying to manage the planes in Govt House remove them from being property of Ministry of Transport?

Eze said it is sad that Wike was part of the FG caucus that grounded the Rivers planes both at home and abroad and is now making ‘discovery’ of them, even when FAAN had in 2013 given reasons why it grounded the planes and stopped the ones abroad from flying in.

Eze lamented that Wike helped the Jonathan administration to divert Rivers oil wells away to Bayelsa State and other states, transfer the disputed money kept in escrow account to Bayelsa, ground the planes, stop draw-down of loans to Rivers, stop refund of over N100Bn spent on federal projects, etc, but is now posing as a messiah fighting to return those same assets to Rivers State.

Eze, however, suggested that the aircraft be sold to raise fund to tackle critical issues of public concerns such as the huge debts owed pensioners, job creation, youth empowerment, agricultural development, investment in education and health, all of which have received very little or no attention from the current administration under Gov. Wike and the People’s Democratic Party.

Conclusion

Cacophony of noises may dominate the aircraft issue until another scandal erupts in Rivers State between Wike and Amaechi as 2023 draws near. No authority has ever taken it up to press any of the controversies between them to a logical conclusion. It ends in unresolved allegations and counters by the other party, and times wears off all matters.

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