Barely a day after two Bell helicopters seized by the Nigerian Customs Service were handed over to the Nigerian Air Force in Lagos, the Rivers state government has claimed ownership of the aircraft.
In a statement, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike claims that he had written officially to the President asking that the helicopters which were procured by the immediate past administration, be handed over to the Nigerian Air Force.
He said: “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 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 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 Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, Dan Ugo, had alleged that the importers of the helicopters failed to comply with the necessary import requirements and vowed to go after them.
The state government wonders why the security agencies would resort to what the government describes as political blackmail when the facts contained in documents on the two helicopters are not hidden.
It added that the helicopters were to be used to monitor the creeks in the state, but due to the refusal of the federal government to waive the import duties on them, which it claims the state could not afford, Governor Wike opted to have the helicopters handed over to the Air Force.
“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 Custom 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.”