Former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, widely accused of sponsoring Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria, may be lobbying for the release of the Chad-bound cargo aircraft confiscated in Kano for transporting large consignment of military hardware, Premium Times reported yesterday.
Sources at the Aminu Kano International Airport, where the plane is currently detained, said Sheriff visited the Kano airport at about 10 PM on Saturday and held discussions with some officials on the possibility of releasing the aircraft.
According to the Premium Times sources, on arriving the airport, officials allowed the former governor a secret tour of the aircraft, during which he inspected its consignments.
“I was there and I saw him and two airport security officials accompanying him to inspect the plane. I saw the black helicopters and two bullet proof SUVs,” one of the sources said. “I also heard him (Sheriff) say verbal directive had been given from Abuja for the release of the plane but that authorities of the airport were insisting on a written directive.”
Sheriff could not be reached to comment for this story. His known mobile telephone number was switched off for several hours that Premium Times called Saturday. He is also yet to reply a text message sent to him.
The Manager of the Malam Aminu Kano International airport in Kano, Mr Adamu, told Premium Times he is in Abuja and was therefore unaware of Sheriff’s tour of the detained aircraft.
The former Borno governor is a close ally of both the Nigerian president, and the government of Chad – the plane’s final destination.
A 2010 Intelligence Report by a Nigerian security agency suggested that Sheriff was personally involved in the recruitment, training and dispatch of Boko Haram fighters, under the full cover of Idris Deby, the Chadian president.
Chad is Nigeria’s neighbour and is situated on Nigeria’s northeast shoulder, and sharing long distances of unregulated borders, it is considered a window to safety for Boko Haram fighters.
An Australian negotiator engaged by the Nigerian government to bring Boko Haram insurgents to the negotiation table, Stephen Davies, also spoke of how the insurgents named Sheriff as one of their sponsors during his conversations with the terrorists.
Airport officials told Premium Times Sheriff’s verbal pressures to let the plane go was turned down.
He was asked to get written permission from “ogas at the top” – authority high up in Abuja – our sources said.
After inspecting the plane and holding discussions with local officials, Sheriff reportedly left for Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, in a private jet at about 11:30PM Saturday.
Security operatives at the Kano airport had seized the plane when it landed at the facility at about 2AM Saturday, as a result of technical problems.
Crew members of the airplane were immediately detained while investigations continued, officials had said.
“Security has since been beefed up at the airport in order to ensure proper investigation,” the officials added.
Meanwhile, according to a press statement issued by the Russian Embassy yesterday, “The plane that is being held (by Nigerian authorities) in the city of Kano is Russian, but its military cargo belongs to a French peacekeeping mission.”
The aircraft took off in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, and was headed to the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed security source. The aircraft allegedly contained two helicopters, a bulletproof jeep and boxes thought to contain military hardware.
The plane had to make an emergency landing in Kano, because the N’Djamena airport was closed, according to the source.
The statement read: “On Saturday, December 6, 2014, the Russian plane with the cargo of the French peacekeeping mission in Chad on board routing from Bangui to N`Djamena made an emergency landing in the Kano International Airport.
“At present time, the Russian and French Embassies in Abuja are taking measures to provide immediate take-off of the plane. Nigerian authorities demonstrated full understanding of the situation and have no claims to the cargo and to the crew members,” it stated.