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Helicopter seized by nigerian custom

How Adeosun’s frustration compelled Wike to seek copters handover to NAF–Findings

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More indications have emerged on the true circumstances surrounding the two armoured helicopters, which the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) claimed impounded at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos and handed over to Nigerian Air Force weekend.

Contrary to reports that the aircrafts were imported by Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi for personal use, investigations by Business Hilights have shown that the aircrafts were actually bought by the Government of Rivers State when Mr. Rotimi Amaechi was the governor with the intent of boosting air surveillance over urban crimes and pipeline vandalism.

But, twist started to surround the matter before 2015 elections when the copters arrived unfortunately at the time Amaechi had fallen apart with President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, causing the apex government to apparently withdraw the already given duty waiver, thus leading to the abandonment of the crafts and pile up of demurrage.

When Governor Nyesom Wike won election, his initial efforts were to seek revalidation of the duty waiver so as to use the copters for what it was bought for only to be frustrated by the resistance posed by the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun and Customs boss, Hameed Ali.

After the dust of Rivers State guber elections settled, Governor Nyesom Wike in a letter dated September 28, 2015, to the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali, sought provisional release of the helicopters pending when it would receive a revalidated waiver from the Minister of Finance.

The letter read in parts; “We are all aware about the serious security challenges in the country, part of which is the recurring vandalisation 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.

“These helicopters which will be fully equipped with night vision capabilities, cameras and armour plating and other sensitive accessories for day and night operations, are among the transactions we inherited from the previous administration.

“The helicopters were duly imported based on extant import guidelines to which invoice and Form M were duly obtained. Already they presently domiciled at the SAHCOL Limited premises in Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

“The Rivers State Government is requesting a provisional release of 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 Honourable Minister of Finance on our application for duty waiver.

Additional facts also showed that on December 13, 2015, the governor wrote to the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun to seek a re-validation of the expired certificate on waiver of import duty, VAT and all related taxes in respect of the importation of the two units of Bell 412 helicopters, previously granted to his predecessor.

Letter to the Minister read in parts; “Recall that the Honorable Minister of Finance granted waivers to the Rivers State Government in 2013 vide Ref No. BO/R10260/S/11/336 dated 26th February, 2013 for the importation of a Bombardier Aircraft (Global Vision 5000 Series) monorail equipment and two units of Bell 412 surveillance helicopters.

“The minister is invited to note that waivers earlier granted on the importation of the two helicopters are yet to be utilized by the state government due to unforeseen circumstances occasioned by the inability of the previous administration to import the helicopters into the country.

“Consequently, and in view of the fact that the two helicopters have been lying at NAHCO terminal in Lagos accumulating demurrage since September 2015, it is our prayers that the Honourable Minister kindly consider and approve the revalidation of expired certificate on waiver of import duty, VAT, and all other taxes in connection to the importation of the two units of Bell helicopter with kits for oil pipeline monitoring and security surveillance service as earlier approved in 2013.

At the height of expecting a positive response from Adeosun, Governor Wike was expressly told by the CG of Customs through a memo signed by Customs Controller M. Jibrin, in the Tariff and Trade Department saying “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 the Duty Exemption is granted by the Honourable Minister.”

With the seeming refusal of the finance minister to re-validate the waiver certificate, the River State government became unable to clear the helicopter as it could not pay the duty and accumulated demurrage amounting to about N9 billion. Consequently, it decided to donate the helicopters to the Air Force.

This was observed in a letter to the Chief of Air Staff, dated March 14, 2016, where Governor Wike lamented that “In view of the special nature of the operations for which they were acquired, the Rivers State Government considers it necessary to place and transfer the aircraft to the custody and management of the Nigerian Air Force.”

Further findings also revealed that right from conception, the intent of the Rivers State government was that the helicopters would be managed and utilized by the Nigeria Air Force. For this purpose, the Amaechi administration had built a special facility in Port Harcourt that would serve as the command base of the anticipated helicopters when eventually put into the service of the state.

When the matter first got the media attention, Amaechi made it clear that “The truth is that, and the Federal Government is aware, they gave us approval to buy two helicopters to fly around the state for the purpose of security and we have done that, we bought and we paid”.

He disclosed further that “Up till now, they have not allowed the helicopter to come in. Maybe they are afraid that it is for 2015. Please help us beg them on behalf of the state that we need the aircraft to be able to secure the people of the state”.

Also, former Commissioner for Information under Amaechi administration in Rivers State , Ibim Semenitari had explained that “the two Bell 412 helicopters have camera payload for aerial surveillance of Rivers State were purchased, as part of the state government’s collaboration with the Federal Government and its support for the security agencies in the state. The total cost of the helicopters was US$29 million”.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria through the Office of the National Security Adviser paid US $15 million, while the Rivers State Government paid the balance. The Federal Government granted duty waiver. The aircraft are being freighted into Nigeria and will be reassembled in Lagos.

“The helicopters are to be operated by the Nigerian Police in conjunction with the oil companies who have offered to bear some of the operating cost to enable government to combat the menace of oil bunkering.

It would be recalled that the NCS weekend handed over two brand new helicopters seized by the service to the Nigerian Air force (NAF).


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