The Southern and Middle-Belt Leaders’ Forum has stated that they were stopped from traveling to Makurdi yesterday to attend the Middle Belt summit on restructuring, as their chartered flight was allegedly denied landing permit at the Benue state capital by the Nigerian Air Force, NAF.
Speaking for the group after they were prevented from flying, the Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, told a press conference in Abuja that although they had secured a chapter aircraft, which was ready to fly to Makurdi, they were told that for security reasons, they needed clearance to land at the airport.
Nwodo, who was joined by First Republic Information Minister, Chief Edwin Clark; former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife; and Afenifere Leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said the elders spent about five hours at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, trying to obtain clearance to make the journey, but were refused by the Commandant of the Makurdi Airport, whose name was given as Lt. Commander A. Audu.
They claimed that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was gradually descending into military dictatorship, insisting that their inability to fly to Makurdi was an infringement on their fundamental rights, and wondered why they were denied freedom of movement and association since no known law had been breached by them.
Nwodo said, “We arrived in time for our flight today (yesterday) at 12:00 noon, but the airport commandant disallowed us from flying and said we needed to get permission to land in Makurdi.
“We consider this fundamental infringement on our democratic right of freedom of movement and freedom of association. There is nothing in our law precluding us from moving to wherever we like, and holding an opinion, insofar as we do not breach any law in Nigeria.
“What has happened to us today expresses a lot of doom for fundamental human rights in our country, for the free exchange of ideas as unavoidable instruments of achieving growth and development of our polity.
“We deprecate the treatment that we were given today, which treatment prevented us from physically joining our brethren in the Middle Belt, in a common view which we all hold, a very patriotic view, which we think will be the only way to guarantee the future of our country.”
“Please publicise this for many reasons. One, the teeming crowd that you saw on television in the Middle Belt are our brethren, who showed us solidarity in other zonal summits. The fact that we were barred from showing them solidarity is bound to hurt them. Through this press conference, we want to express our solidarity with them. We want them to know we are one and the same in our views of the restructuring of the federation
“Secondly, to deprecate this new tendency. Not too long ago, the president signed into law an Executive order, which gives him the right to seize people’s assets. This is almost like a military government. And, we think this is an intrusion into the principles of separation of powers in our country.
“It is the responsibility of the legislature to make law, of the executive to implement the law and the judiciary to interpret the law. I do not think Section 5 of the Constitution gives the President such Executive authority to make laws.
“The right to property is a fundamental right in a democracy. It cannot be expropriated here without decision of the court. What has happened to us today shows a continuing tendency to slide into a dictatorship in a democratic government. That is condemnable,” the Forum’s spokesman said.
Pointing out that they intended to be in Makurdi to join their Middle-Belt counterparts on restructuring, which was supposed to be a follow-up to similar ones successfully held earlier in Ibadan, Yenagoa and Awka, Nwodo said they wanted to show solidarity with the Middle Belt people, who, he said, had supported the forum.
On whether they saw it as an attempt to sabotage their participation at the summit, a member of the forum and the spokesman of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said: “The first jet that was to take us started this funny game of saying that there was a bad weather to Makurdi and that they could not fly until we got to other airlines, and I asked what’s bad about the weather. They said they were ready to take us.
“As we were about to make payments, they now said there was landing permit issues. They called the commandant in Makurdi, who said they should send application.
“The Chief of Staff to the Benue State Governor said we should fax the application to him and to the commandant.
“We waited at the airport for hours. Eventually, the Chief of Staff had to contact the commandant in Makurdi and was told that the landing permit requested by the first airline was still on their table. At that stage, General C. Ariyo Niege, a veteran ex-soldier, who was head of Nigerian military forces in Sudan, went to the commandant in Abuja.”
Narrating what transpired, Ariyo, who was present at the press briefing said: “I pleaded with him (Commandant) that we were having issues with flying to Makurdi for the summit, and he told me for security reasons civilian aircraft are no longer allowed to fly into Makurdi airport.”