Documents related to the controversial Bell Helicopters reportedly seized by the Nigeria Customs officials at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos show that there was communication regarding the transaction on September 2015.
This was contrary to claims by the customs that the helicopters were impounded in November 2016 from unknown smugglers. Rivers State Government that has claimed ownership of the helicopters, however, denied buying the estimated N10 billion military-type helicopters.
The Guardian learnt that Rivers State Government had in a letter dated September 28, 2015 written to the Comptroller-General of the Customs seeking the release of the helicopters.
Apparently denied, the state government in another letter dated March 16, 2016 addressed to the Chief of Air Staff, Nigeria Air Force Headquarters, sought that the helicopters be released as gift to the Nigerian Air Force.
When The Guardian contacted the Customs Public Relations Officer, Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Thelma Williams yesterday, she refused to comment on the controversy.
Williams said: “I am sorry. I don’t make comments on official matters at weekends. As I am talking to you I am at home preparing food for my children.”
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport Command of Nigerian Customs Service at the weekend claimed to have seized two civil model Bell helicopters imported into the country by unknown persons and handed them over to the Nigerian Air Force for failure by the unknown importers to produce end-user certificate from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) in contravention of Section 36 (2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike had in his reaction said the armoured helicopters were ordered by the Rotimi Amaechi administration. He explained that he wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari to hand over the helicopters to the Nigeria Air Force, but he did not get any response from the Presidency.
Meanwhile, the immediate past governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, has accused Wike of abandoning two helicopters purchased by the state at the airport and playing politics with it.
Amaechi explained that the helicopters were procured by his administration to curb the wanton menace of criminals in the state but Wike decided to abandon and dump the helicopters, because he does not care about the safety and security of lives and property in the State.
The former governor recalled that when took over office in 2007, criminal elements were on the prowl. But with a strong political will to tackle these menaces and make the state a safe place, he initiated a lot of measures to deal with the menace.
According to him, purchasing these helicopters was one of the measures the Amaechi administration took to curb the clandestine and criminal activities in the state
Wike said he went to the Federal Government to “give us 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.”
He added: “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 couldn’t 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 custom would turn around to claim that they impounded the helicopters,” Wike explained.