Group says government descending into military dictatorship
They were prevented from flying for security reasons – airport Commandant
Some members of the Southern and Middle Belt Forum (southern flank) led by Chief Edwin Clark, were on Monday stopped from traveling to Makurdi to attend the Middle Belt conference on restructuring.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja after they were disallowed from flying, the group said they were told they could not fly to Makurdi because of security reasons even after securing a charter aircraft.
Speaking on behalf of the group, the Secretary General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, John Nwodo, said the elders spent about five hours at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja trying to obtain clearance to make the journey but were refused by the Commandant of the Makurdi Airport whose name was given as Lt. Commander A. Audu.
He said: “We arrived in time for our flight today at 12 noon; the airport commandant disallowed us from flying and said we needed to go and get permission to land in Makurdi.
“We consider this fundamental infringement on our democratic rights of freedom of movement and freedom of association. There is nothing in our law precluding us from moving to wherever we like, from holding an opinion in so far as we do not breach any law in Nigeria.
“What has happened to us today expresses a lot of doom for fundamental human rights in our country, for the free exchange of ideas as unavoidable instruments of achieving growth and development of our polity.
“We deprecate the treatment that we were given today, which treatment prevented us from physical joining our brethren in the Middle Belt in a common view which we all hold, a very patriotic view, which we think will be the only way to guarantee the future of our country.” he said.
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Nwodo, who joined other southern leaders to watch the live transmission of the conference in Chief Clark’s residence, said that they wanted to show solidarity with the Middle Belt people who he said had been supportive to the forum.
He added: “Please publicize this for many reasons. One, the teeming crowd that you saw on television in the Middle Belt is our brethren who showed us solidarity in other zonal summits. The fact that we were barred from showing them this solidarity is bound to hurt them.
“Through this press conference, we want to express our solidarity with them. We want them to know that we are one and the same in our views of the restructuring of the Federation” he said
The group also faulted the recently signed Executive Order 006.
He said “Secondly, to deprecate this new tendency. Not too long ago, the President signed into law an Executive order, which gives him the right to seize people’s assets. This is almost like a military government. And we think that this is an intrusion into the principles of separation of powers in our country.
“It is the responsibility of the legislature to make law, of the executive to implement the law and the judiciary to interpret the law. I do not think that Section 5 of the Constitution gives the President such Executive authority to make laws.
“The right to property is a fundamental right in a democracy. It cannot be expropriated here without decision of the court. What has happened to us today shows a continuing tendency to slide into a dictatorship in a democratic government. That is condemnable.” he stated
Asked if the forum suspected any deliberate attempt to sabotage their participation at the Makurdi summit or for other technical reasons, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said “The first jet that was to take us started this funny game of saying that there was a bad weather to Makurdi and that they could not fly. Until we got to other airlines and I asked what’s bad about the weather. They said they were ready to take us.
“As we were about to make payments, they now said there was landing permit issues. They called the commandant in Makurdi, who said they should send application.
“The Chief of Staff to the Benue State Governor said we should fax the application to him and to the commandant. We waited at the airport for hours. Eventually, the Chief of Staff had to contact the commandant in Makurdi and was told that the landing permit requested by the first airline was still on their table. At that stage, General C. Ariyo Niege, a veteran ex-soldier, who was head of Nigerian military forces in Sudan, went to the commandant in Abuja.
Speaking on his encounter with the commandant in Abuja, Niege said he was told they would not be able to fly to Makurdi due to security reasons.
He said “I pleaded with him that we were having issues in flying to Makurdi for the summit and he told me that for security reasons civilian aircraft were no longer allowed to fly into Makurdi airport.