Friday, May 3, 2013

Aircraft: FG threatens to prosecute Rivers for forgery

THE face-off over the registration or otherwise of a Bombadier aircraft owned by the Rivers State government took a twist on Thursday with the Federal Government threatening to prosecute Rivers for forgery.

Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, said in a statement that the clearance documents used by the aircraft had been discovered to be forged, threatening that the state government would be prosecuted for the action which the minister said amounted to a violation of the nation’s aviation laws as well as other extant criminal laws of the land.
The statement issued on behalf of the minister by her Special Assistant, Media, Joe Obi, reads in part, “The presentation of false information or forged documentation to regulatory authorities in the processing of official approvals or permits is clearly a serious violation of the Civil Aviation Act, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations and other extant criminal laws in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Upon conclusion of these internal investigations, the Ministry will take all necessary steps required by law.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the Rivers State government to the development on Thursday failed as several calls made to both the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari; and Comunication for Transport, Mr. Tofolari George, were unaswered.
The aviation minister alleged that the flight clearance documents used by the aircraft might have been forged because Caverton Helicopters, whose name appeared on the clearance documents, had denied doing so in a letter to the Federal Government.
According to her, the NCAA had discovered that the aircraft was operating illegally within the Nigerian airspace.
Specifically, she said it was revealed that the aircraft did not have a valid flightclearance for its operations on  April 26, 2013 when it was grounded in Akure as the last purported clearance obtained for the aircraft expired on  April 2, 2013.
She said, “Upon further investigation, however, it also emerged that the last purported flight clearance (and indeed several flight clearances previously obtained for this aircraft) had been obtained using the name of Caverton Helicopters. A letter from Messrs Caverton Helicopters dated April 26, 2013 expressly disclaimed any knowledge of or involvement with the flightclearances previously obtained in its name for the said aircraft.
“The NCAA’s investigations specifically further revealed that the followingflight clearances were obtained for the aircraft using the name of Caverton Helicopters: Flight Clearance for 04 – 06 January 2013; Flight Clearance for 23 – 27 January 2013; Flight Clearance for 28 March – 2 April 2013.
“In view of Caverton’s letter expressly denying its involvement with the said clearances applications, the Ministry has directed the NCAA to commence a full investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the false clearance applications.”
Oduah explained that the flight clearance process was a vital safety and security component of civil aviation worldwide.
She noted, “It requires the involvement of both the civil aviation authorities and the national security agencies before approval is given and full disclosure of the aircraft, passengers and crew must be provided as required by law. The security implication of this requirement is further emphasised where a foreign-registered aircraft (such as the current aircraft) is engaged in domestic flight operations. Failure to fully disclose or attempting to conceal the identities of passengers aboard an aircraft is considered a serious security breach both locally and internationally.
“On April 26, 2013, the said aircraft was refused start-up at Akure airport due to insufficient and improper documentation. Specifically, the pilot failed and/or refused to file a proper passenger manifest declaring the full identity of all passengers on the aircraft for the intended flight as mandatorily required by the regulatory authorities.”
Aviation lawyers who spoke on the matter on Thursday, under condition of anonymity, because of the sensitive nature of the matter, however said that if investigation concluded that the clerance documents were forged, the government could prosecute the American crew that flew the aircraft.
“The pilot in command is the sole person responsible for the safety and security of any flight, including its documentation. Maybe government can prosecute the American pilots that flew the plane. But I don’t think the government can go far with this because there is politics in the whole thing,” a reputable aviation lawyer told our correspondent.
The imbroglio over the Rivers State aircraft has generated a bitter controversy since it was briefly grounded in Akure last week with politics being read into the issue.
On Monday, the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State queried Governor Rotimi Amaechi over the matter. The governor said the query was “sad and laughable.”
On Tuesday, Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Otelemaba Amachree, raised the alarm that the Felix Obuah-led PDP exco had perfected a plot to impeach Ameachi using the unsuspended five members of the House to carry out the impeachment and thus causing confusion in the state.
Twenty-seven, out of the 32 members of the Rivers assembly, had been suspended on Monday by the Obuah-led exco but a court on Tuesday revoked the suspension.

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