Controversy over seized helicopters from “unknown importers” by customs took a different dimension on Saturday as Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, claimed ownership of the machines.
The Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, on Friday said it seized two civil model Bell Helicopters worth N9.7 billion at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos from “unknown importers”.
Reacting to the customs statement, Mr Wike said he wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari offering the two armored helicopters bought by the immediate past governor of the state, Rotimi Amaechi, to the Nigerian Air Force, NAF.
Mr. Wike explained that he made the offer to President Buhari in response to the excessive customs duty on the helicopters and the Federal Government’s refusal to grant the state a waiver to clear the two armored helicopters.
In a statement by the governor’s spokesman, Simeon Nwakaudu, the governor said he spoke on the helicopters during an interview with editors of Sun newspapers on Saturday in Port Harcourt.
Mr. Wike said it was unfortunate that security agencies would resort to political propaganda and outright lies even though the facts surrounding the two armored helicopters were public knowledge.
“These helicopters were imported by the immediate past administration. When I assumed office, we wrote to the Federal Government that it was strictly for security use. What am I going to use armored helicopters for?” Mr. Wike was quoted as telling the Sun editors.
The governor told the editors, “In any case, where will the Rivers State Government get money at this time to import armored helicopters? The previous administration imported [them] because they had the money.”
Mr. Wike added, “I went to the Federal Government to give me a waiver for us to clear the helicopters, but the Federal Government refused. I wrote a letter to the President and to assure him that the helicopters are meant for security purposes, it should be handed over to the Nigerian Air Force.”
The governor expressed surprise that the Buhari administration had started “propaganda and political falsehood on the said armored helicopters.” He asked, “What kind of country are they turning Nigeria into?”
According to Mr. Wike, the state government stated its inability to “pay the custom duties because the helicopters are not for commercial use. They are to be used to monitor the creeks and track criminals.”
He added: “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 have done well when I wrote the letter to the President.”