Jolted by the starting revelations on the purported “seizure” of two BELL helicopters imported by the Rivers State Government, the High Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has returned to the drawing board on how to handle the situation.
One of the options on the table of the NCS, is to sacrifice the Deputy Comptroller of Customs for the Lagos Area Command, Mr. Frank Allanah, who brought the matter to the public domain.
The other option, it was further gathered, is to allow the issue to be politicised until it loses steam.
Reliable sources in the NCS hinted that Customs’ High Command may suspend Allanah as a face-saving measure in the light of the controversy sparked off by announcing the seizure of the helicopters imported by the Rivers State Government.
But in a swift reaction, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), on Sunday called for the sack of the Comptroller-General of NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) for “telling lies” to the nation. HURIWA said that the lie brought untold embarrassment on Nigeria, for which Ali should go.
Allanah had on Friday told a bewildered nation that the service recently seized two armoured helicopters from an “unknown importer” and handed them to the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
According to a senior Customs’ official, aside failing to pay the required duty, the “unknown importer” did not obtain clearance from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to import the armoured aircraft.
The official, who put a lie to the statement, said that the Customs’ High Command was thoroughly embarrassed by the turn of events and was battling to save face.
“With the damning letters supplied by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, the only option is to sacrifice poor Allanah who was merely carrying out orders from above,” he said.
The NCS official said that the gaffe by the NCS was one of the several indicators of the inter-agency rivalry in the nation’s security circle.
“The ONSA is working at cross-purposes with the Customs Service, while the Police are in overdrive to outdo the Department of State Service (DSS). The implication is the several gaffes that have become the hallmark of the present administration,” he lamented.
Governor Wike had at the weekend raised the stakes when he punctured the position of the NCS.
The governor, who accused the Customs High Command of spawning “propaganda,” maintained that he had informed President Buhari in writing, of the intention of the state government to hand the helicopters ordered to be purchased by his predecessor and serving Minister of Transport Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, over to the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
“It is shocking that the Customs would turn around to claim that they impounded the helicopters,” Wike said.
The governor’s media aide, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu, followed up by making public copies of correspondences between Wike, the Customs CG, the NSA, as well as the ones exchanged with the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, on the helicopters.
Interestingly, the twin-engine Bell 412 helicopters were imported by Amaechi.
“I am surprised that they have started propaganda and political falsehood on the said armoured helicopters,” Wike said in Port Harcourt, stressing that the ONSA had three days before the purported seizure written a letter to Ali as well as the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, conveying his approval for the NAF to take charge of the helicopters.
In the letter dated 3rd November, 2016 and captioned: “Re: Request for Approval to take Custody and Manage two X BELL 412 Helicopters”, the NSA said that the approval was the fallout of an earlier letter by the Air Chief seeking such approval.
The NSA stated in the correspondence: “I am directed to respectfully refer to your correspondence: NA/905/D/CAS dated 21st April, 2016 on subject,” wrote AT Famadewa, a Brigadier-General in the ONSA’s office. “I am to convey the National Security Adviser’s approval for NAF to take custody and manage the two X BELL 412 helicopters as requested by Rivers State government.”
Prior to the NSA’s approval, Governor Wike had written the Customs’ boss requesting for a “provisional release” of the helicopters, promising to pay whatever approved duty should the request for waiver receive a negative nod from Adeosun.
In the letter dated 28th September, 2016, Governor Wike told the Customs boss that, aside from duly obtaining Form ‘M’ for the importation of the helicopters, the security equipment were at the mercy of being vandalised, even though the government and the people of Rivers State were in dire need of such surveillance equipment to tackle security challenges.
While requesting for a provisional release of the helicopters, Wike had pledged that, “we undertake to make full duty payment in the event of a negative response to our pending application for waiver.”
Meanwhile, reacting to the issue, former Governor of Rivers State and current Minister of Transport, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, said that former president Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Nyesome Wike prevented and blocked the state from taking possession of the controversial helicopters.