by Nnenna Ibeh
The Nigerian government says it is not a hurry to release the Chad-bound Russian aircraft arrested in Nigeria despite France admitting that it owns the military hardware aboard the plane.
PR Nigeria, an agency that circulates press statements for Nigerian security agencies, quoted an unnamed top security official as telling it “Nigeria has no reason to release the aircraft and its cargo until investigation is concluded”.
“In view of the evidence 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,” PR Nigeria further quoted the official as saying.
The agency said while Nigerian officials have agreed to release crew members of the aircraft to the Russian Embassy in Abuja, the plane would remain detained because “the explanations so far given by the French Embassy concerning the source and destination of the cargo were less than convincing”.
France had said the plane was conveying equipment, owned by its peacekeeping force, from Bangui (Central African Republic) to Ndjamena (Chad), and had diplomatic cover to make a stop-over in Nigeria.
The aircraft won’t be released “until all investigations are concluded”, the report said.
Nigeria’s reported refusal to release the plane is contrary to the claims by the French Ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, that Nigerian authorities had agreed to let the aircraft go.
“Due to the nationality of the aircraft, and the nature of the cargo, local airport Nigerian authorities in Kano have decided to check the flight plan, the clearance and the cargo manifest before authorizing the plane to leave,” the ambassador said in statement through which he admitted his country’s ownership of the cargo aboard the aircraft.
“Official information has been supplied by the French Embassy in Nigeria. The Nigerian federal and airport authorities, being satisfied with the documents and the genuine character of the flight, have announced that the plane will be authorized to pursue its flight to Ndjamena.”
Russia had initially said through its embassy in Nigeria on Saturday night that the plane wasn’t Russian and that it had no link with that country.
But in another statement on Sunday afternoon, the embassy said the plane is indeed a Russian one hired by the French government to convey military hardware for its peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic.
The Nigerian government is yet to provide any update on the plane since Saturday when the military issued a two-paragraph statement announcing the arrest of the plane.
Crew members of the airplane were immediately detained while investigations continued, officials said.
Security was then beefed up at the airport in order to ensure proper investigation,” an official at the airport said.
This is the third time since 2009 that planes loaded with arms would be arrested in Kano, our correspondent says.
The detained planes were later released after investigations.
The destination of the latest aircraft has however raised concerns amid increasing worries in Nigeria over Chad’s alleged role in the Boko Haram insurgency plaguing Nigeria’s northeast.
Airport officials in Kano told PREMIUM TIMES a former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, visited and inspected the plane late Saturday night.
The former governor – an ally of both the Chadian and Nigerian presidents – is believed to be lobbying for the release of the plane.