Contrary to the claims by the Nigeria Customs Service that the two Bell 412 helicopters handed over to the Nigerian Air Force on Friday in Lagos were imported by yet-to-be-identified importers, the aircraft were actually ordered by the Rivers State Government when Rotimi Amaechi was governor.
It was also gathered on Saturday that the current governor of the state, Nyesom Wike, made series of requests for the release of the helicopters to Rivers when he assumed office.
This is coming just as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority declared that it was not notified before the helicopters were brought into Nigeria.
Documents sighted by our correspondents showed that in 2015, the state government wrote different letters to the NCS and the Federal Ministry of Finance requesting the release of the helicopters.
The Rivers State Government requested the release of the helicopters in a September 28, 2015 letter from the Office of the Governor and signed by Nyesom Wike, with reference number RVSG/GH/PRES/VOL.1/03, addressed to the Comptroller-General of the NCS, and had the title, ‘Request for provisional release of two Bell 412 helicopters imported by the Rivers State Government for security surveillance services.’
In the letter, the state government said, “We are all aware of the serious security challenges in the country, part of which is the recurring vandalism of oil pipelines and installations in Rivers State, which to a large extent adversely affect the economy of the country.
“As part of measures to tackle this challenge, the Rivers State Government has imported two Bell 412 helicopters into the country for aerial monitoring and security surveillance of oil and gas pipelines and other facilities in the state.”
It stated that the helicopters were fully equipped with night vision capabilities, camera and armoured plating, as well as other sensitive accessories for day and night operations, adding that the aircraft were “among the transactions inherited from the previous administration.”
The state government stated that the aircraft were “duly imported based on extant import guidelines to which invoice and Form M were duly obtained.”
The letter further noted that the aircraft were at the time domiciled on the premises of SAHCOL Limited at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
It requested the NCS to release the helicopters “due to the high sensitivity of the equipment attached to them, and also to avoid unbearable demurrage while awaiting a response from the minister of finance on our application for duty waiver.”
The letter from the governor’s office added, “We undertake to make full duty payment in the event of a negative response to our pending application for waiver.”
The NCS replied the letter from the governor’s office in an October 7, 2015 letter that was addressed to the Rivers State governor, with reference number NCS/T&T/I&E/077/S.437, and signed by the Comptroller, Import and Exports, Jibrin M. for the Comptroller-General of Customs.
The NCS, in its reply, told the state government to pursue the issuance of the duty exemption certificate for the helicopters.
The letter, which was titled, ‘Re: Request for provisional release of two Bell 412 helicopters imported by the Rivers State Government for security surveillance services’, said, “Reference is made to your letter No. RVSG/GH/PRES/VOL.1/03 of 28th September, 2015 on the above subject matter.
“I am directed to notify you, in line with extant import guidelines, to pursue the issuance of the duty exemption certificate, or in the alternative, pay the appropriate duties and apply for duty refund after duty exemption is granted by the minister of finance.”
Wike wrote another letter dated December 13, 2015, addressed to the minister of finance with reference number RVSG/GH/PRES/VOL1/05, which was titled, ‘Request for Revalidation of expired certificate waiver of import duty, VAT, and all related taxes in respect of the importation of two units of Bell 412 security surveillance helicopters.’
In the letter, the governor stated that in 2013, the minister granted the state waivers for the importation of Bombardier aircraft (Global Vision 5000 Series), monorail equipment and two units of Bell 412 surveillance helicopters.
He said, “However, the honourable minister is invited to note that the waivers earlier granted on the importation of the two helicopters are yet to be utilised by the state government due to unforeseen circumstances occasioned by the inability of the previous administration to import the helicopters into the country.”
The governor urged the minister to consider and approve the revalidation of the expired certificate in waiver of import duty, VAT and all other taxes in connection with the importance of the two units of the Bell 412 helicopters.
But in another letter from the Office of the National Security Adviser, dated November 3, 2016, signed by the Brigadier-General, AT Famadewa, for the NSA, and copied to the governor of Rivers State, as well as the comptroller-general of Customs, which was addressed to the Chief of the Air Staff, the NSA gave approval for the NAF to take custody of the helicopters.
The NSA, in the letter with reference number NSA/452/S and titled, ‘Re: Request for approval to take custody and manage two Bell 412 helicopters’, however, said the approval was based on the request of the state.
The letter from the NSA’s office stated, “I am directed to respectfully refer to your correspondence NA/905/D/CAS dated April 21, 2016 on subject. I am to convey the National Security Adviser’s approval for NAF to take custody and manage the two Bell 412 helicopters as requested by Rivers State government.”
Helicopters didn’t follow civil import procedure — NCAA
Explaining the standard procedure needed before the importation of an aircraft for civil operations in Nigeria, the spokesperson of the NCAA, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, said, “To bring a civil aircraft in, NCAA will be notified and a pre-shipment flight inspection carried out. If found suitable, then it will be cleared to be brought in.
“On arrival, a comprehensive audit will still be carried out on it, especially those for commercial use.”
Adurogboye, however, stated that the authority did not carry out any of the above processes on the controversial helicopters.
‘Why helicopters were not released to Amaechi’
One of our correspondents gathered that the then Rotimi Amaechi administration had ordered for the helicopters about two years into his tenure.
However, it was learnt that when the helicopters, which were said to have been built from scratch, were already in the United States of America, the relationship between Amaechi and then President Goodluck Jonathan had turned sour.
Because of this, it was learnt that the Amaechi administration was not cleared to bring the two helicopters into the country.
A source, who was part of the administration, said the aircraft were abandoned at the airport in the US.
The former Chief Press Secretary to Amaechi, Mr. David Iyofor, said through a text message that the two armoured helicopters belonged to the Rivers State Government, and insisted that all enquiries about the helicopters should be directed to the state government.
But the NCS on Saturday said it was still searching for those that imported the two helicopters that were seized and handed over to the NAF on Friday.
The acting Public Relations Officer, NCS, Joseph Attah, told newsmen that no one had come forward to claim ownership of the helicopter.
He said, “Investigation into the seized aircraft is still ongoing. You know that when something is seized by customs and that item is something that can be auctioned, then it is auctioned.
“But in this case, the helicopter is something that is useful to the nation and so, it was given to the Air Force.
“But despite the fact that it has been handed over to the Air Force, we are still conducting our investigations.”
Wike, on Saturday, however disagreed with the Customs.
He explained that he had officially written to Buhari, asking that the armoured helicopters be handed over to the NAF and wondered why the NCS claimed that the items were seized.
The governor added that he wrote the letter following the high duty charged for the items and the refusal of the current administration to grant Rivers the waiver to clear the two armoured helicopters.
Wike’s position was contained in a statement issued by his Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electronic Media, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu, on Saturday.
The governor spoke during an interview with editors of The Sun at the Government House in Port Harcourt.
The governor said, “These helicopters were imported by the previous administration. When I assumed office, we wrote to the Federal Government that it was strictly for security use. What am I going to use armoured helicopters for?
“In any case, where will the Rivers State Government get money at this time to import armoured helicopters? The previous administration imported it because they had the money.
“I went to the Federal Government to give me a waiver to clear the helicopters, but the Federal Government refused. I wrote a letter to the president and assured him that the helicopters are meant for security purposes, so it should be handed over to the Nigerian Air Force.”
Speaking further, he said, “I am surprised that they have started propaganda and political falsehood on the said armoured helicopters. What kind of country are they turning Nigeria into?
“We stated that we cannot pay the custom duties because the helicopters are not for commercial use. They are to be used to monitor the creeks and track criminals.
“I wrote to the President to give the helicopters to the Air Force. It is shocking that the Customs would turn around to claim that they impounded the helicopters. The Chief of Staff to the President admitted that I had done well when I wrote the letter to the President.”