Governor Chibuike Amaechi
Many industry experts and observers believe that the House of Representatives, which recently unveiled its report on the controversial jet operated by the Rivers State Government, may have more than oversight interest in the dispute, writes Chinedu Eze
Besides on-the-spot assessment of aviation parastatals, the first time the House Committee on Aviation carried out investigation and issued a report was after the tragic accident of Dana Air flight 0992, which killed 153 people on board.
The second time the House issued another report was on the controversial Bombardier Global Express 6000 aircraft with registration number, N565RS that was operated by the government of Rivers State before it was grounded by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Since after the Dana Air flight crash, there have been major issues in the aviation industry before the Governor Amaechi’s aircraft palaver that would have elicited critical intervention from the National Assembly.
It was expected that the revelations of the crash would have helped legislative resolutions that would have improved the industry. It is also expected that the National Assembly would have carried out investigation and written a report on its stand on the on-going debate about the national carrier.
But as industry expert and consultant, Chris Aligbe, noted, “The National Assembly has not been able to keep pace with the speed of the Minister of Aviation. If the House and Senate have kept pace there would have been a whole lot of resolutions coming from the National Assembly that would have laid legislative foundation for the many activities that have been going on in the industry.”
This was why many industry observers were suspicious of the swift manner the House of Representatives carried out investigation on the dispute between NCAA and the Rivers state government over its operated aircraft, which was grounded more than a month ago. The House Committee on Aviation quickly issued a report on the matter.
Industry observers noted that for the first time it was from the House’s report that the aircraft was indicated as owned by the Rivers state government. The House report explained that the aircraft in question was purchased through the agent ACASS, USA Inc., and that the receipt of the purchase of the aircraft dated September 28, 2012 named Rivers state government as the owner.
“Rivers state government was represented by the Hon. Commissioner for Transport, received the delivery of the aircraft,” the report said.
Informed critics in the industry said the report could be described as a public relations document for Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the government of Rivers state because the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has documents that identified the aircraft as leased and that explained why it was receiving monthly clearance certificate from the regulatory body.
Perhaps the Rivers state government did not wish to disclose to the public that it purchased the aircraft, which market price, including charges, is $60 million; rather it pretended that it leased the aircraft and retained its foreign registration number and was getting monthly clearance from NCAA since September last year. By doing that the Rivers state government had avoided paying Customs duty for the importation of the aircraft and it had avoided registering it locally so that it would be recognised as aircraft owned by a state government.
The general manager, public affairs, NCAA, Fan Ndubuoke, told THISDAY that the document made available to it showed that the aircraft was owned by ACASS and it was a visiting aircraft; hence it was securing clearance certificate.
“NCAA Insists that it is possible that Rivers state government owned the aircraft but the documents before us showed it is not owned by them. We worked with the documents and we never had any dealing with Rivers state government.”
Industry observers said the House did not try to find out why Rivers state government did not make available the documents that showed it purchased the aircraft to NCAA and went ahead to pontificate on the “unprofessional” act of the regulatory body.
“Perusal of the agreement between Rivers state government trustor and Bank of Utah Trustee would have shown this fact of ownership, it is distressing that NCAA and the Ministry still fail or refuse to appreciate the simple fact; but since the authorities did not raise ownership issue with several other aircraft having the name of Bank of Utah Trustee, this allegation is in bad faith and grossly unprofessional.”
But NCAA insider picked holes with the above argument saying that the reason why the aircraft was designated as visiting aircraft was because the documents provided showed that the aircraft was not purchased; instead it was leased; that if Rivers state government was sincere, it would have submitted the document that showed that it purchased the aircraft. If it had done so, there would have been no need to request for clearance certificate.
“So the state government was actually hiding the fact that it purchased the aircraft, and those documents it was hiding from NCAA it made available to the House. So there is something smelly here,” the insider added.
The House went further to defend the Rivers state government, alleging that Caverton Helicopters lied that it did not do business with Amaechi’s government, and recommending that the Attorney General should consider prosecuting the company.
In the letter ACASS wrote to NCAA explaining its sale of the aircraft to Rivers state government, it exonerated Caverton Helicopters. This letter was already written to NCAA before the House made public its report but it still insisted that the Rivers state government was working with Caverton.
The ACASS letter said, “We assisted the Government of Rivers State of Nigeria with taking delivery and possession of their new aircraft. During these preparations, we requested, on behalf of our client, assistance for the Nigerian importation of the aircraft through Caverton Helicopters which was never consummated or received.
“Our entry into service support culminated in the delivery and turnover of possession of the aircraft to the Government of Rivers State on September 28, 2012, in the USA with the exception of crew support and advisory support.”
Aligbe who was obviously perplexed by the report said, “The real facts are being located in a political milieu. The milieu has eclipsed the actual technical fact. Issues may have been looked at more critically instead of politicising them.”
In a statement Caverton Helicopters issued earlier in the week it said, “Contrary to the submission by House of Representatives’ committees on Justice and Aviation that an “agency relationship” exists between Caverton Helicopters and the Rivers State Government on the aircraft with registration number N565RS, the aviation company yesterday categorically denied the existence of such a relationship and demanded concrete evidence from those who claim otherwise.”
Caverton Helicopters said it was surprising how the committees arrived at such weighty position and recommendation “without an independent, forensic investigation and without any counter-veiling evidence other than the mere say-so of a party to a dispute.”
“We expected more rigour, more nuance, more balance, and greater restraint from such an august body,” added the statement signed by Mr. Waziri Adio, communication consultant to Caverton Helicopters.
“We challenge those who insist on manufacturing an ‘agency relationship’ where none exists to show concrete evidence,” the statement also said.
Adio noted that such concrete evidence should include mandate from Rivers State Government to Caverton Helicopters on the said aircraft; evidence of payment(s) to Caverton Helicopters with corresponding invoice(s) for the purported services provided by us to the state government in the last eight months on this aircraft; executed management or agency contract between Rivers State Government and Caverton Helicopters; and any correspondences (whether through letter or email) on the issue during the past eight-month period we were purportedly involved with the aircraft.
The company maintained that the only relationship it had on the aircraft was an “unconsummated” one. “We were instructed by ACASS, a Canadian firm, to help apply for importation permit for the aircraft in August 2012,” the company said.
Many in the aviation industry have been commenting on the controversial report of the House and many urged the members not to play politics with aviation issues.
Executive member of the Aviation Round Table (ART), Sheri Kyari, said it was embarrassing that the revered House of Representatives could make public such one-sided report without objectively looking at the case on the table and also carrying out thorough investigation; rather, it hurriedly put out a report and blamed those it had already indicted before investigating the incidents that led to the disagreement between the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Rivers state government.
“By that action the House is now functioning as the regulator which should not be so. I don’t expect them to come up with a report without further listening to the NCAA, Caverton Helicopters and the Ministry of Aviation. The National Assembly should be able to balance its investigation by giving Caverton Helicopters fair hearing,” Kyari said.
He said the Minister of Aviation, who had the responsibility of protecting the industry, had to step in to stop the embarrassment to government, noting that the Minister had the right to take the actions she had taken in the matter.
“I want to believe that the National Assembly should only intervene when the matter is getting out of hand, but the matter is still under control. By that report the House is acting like the executive instead of legislators. I don’t know the experts that are feeding the House with information. They should have allowed the Minister and NCAA to carry out their duties before they stepped in,” Kyari said.
But aviation security expert, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) said he was in support of the findings of the House because NCAA should not have allowed the said aircraft to even leave Port Harcourt and fly to Akure.
Ojikutu noted that as the aircraft was designated as visiting aircraft, ideally it should not have left the international airport where it landed on arrival, alleging that the regulations guiding the operations of private jets have been abused with the connivance of the regulatory body; otherwise that aircraft should not have been allowed to operate in the country beyond the first international airport it landed in.
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