The Maiduguri International Airport was closed to commercial flights in February this year following the bombing of the Air Force Base in the town by the insurgents. The attack made the federal government to close the airport to all manner of flights on June 27, for a period of three months due to security concerns. This had compelled the intending pilgrims for this year’s lesser hajj to travel by road to Kano amidst fear over their safety. A chartered Max Airline flight which had arrived the Maiduguri airport on June 27, to airlift the 276 already screened intending pilgrims from Borno and Yobe States was turned back by security operatives at the airport. It was later announced that the airport would remain closed to all manner of aircrafts until September 29, by the time hajj airlift would have been concluded.
The closure, it was gathered, had caused hiccups in the handling of the activities of the state government especially those that involved support from the federal government institutions in Abuja as officials of the state government have had to travel a daylong journey to the federal capital territory.
The closure recorded its first casualty as an elder brother of the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, Shettima Mohammed Shettima, was involved in a ghastly motor accident during a trip to Kano to join a flight to Saudi Arabia for the lesser hajj. The governor of the state was even compelled to travel by road to visit his brother in a Kano hospital where he is receiving treatment. While the governor’s elder brother was fortunate to be alive after having multiple fractures, the police Orderly attached to him, after series of threat from Boko Haram insurgents, was not so lucky as he died from injuries sustained during the accident.
Governorr Shettima, who was not allowed the luxury of a chartered flight based on the decision of the federal government, had to embark on the five-hour road trip to Kano to see his brother from where he would travel to Saudi Arabia for the lesser Hajj.
However controversy was ignited last Monday, when a plane carrying the immediate past Governor of Borno state, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff (aka SAS) and his political associates was permitted by the Federal Government to fly into the already closed down airport, sending signal that the entire scenario was politically motivated, aimed at embarrassing Governor Kashim Shettima and the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) in the state.
This came barely two weeks after military operatives acting on what they termed as ‘security reasons’ had shut down the airport and barred 278 intending pilgrims for Borno and Yobe states from being airlifted to Saudi Arabia for the lesser Hajj, despite quick intervention by Governor Kashim Shettima.
Similarly, Governor Shettima was equally disallowed to use the airport facility for a trip to Kano almost the same day his former boss was about landing and was compelled to travel by road to catch a flight to Saudi Arabia to perform lesser Hajj.
Sheriff arrived the airport at about 1:40p.m. on board his private jet with registration number 5NBMH to the waiting hands of dozens of soldiers led by the Garrison Commander of 7 Division of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, Colonel D.R. Hassan who led troops to give cover to the ex-governor.
Sheriff who has already defected to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) upon arrival at Maiduguri, is expected to lead the re-election bid of President Goodluck Jonathan in Borno State. The former state governor was welcome by politicians mostly carrying PDP flags and chanting the slogan of the party, “power, power. He was accompanied by some of his political associates, including Mohammed Imam, said to be interested in running for the governorship position of the state in 2015; Hon. AbdulRahman Terab, Hon. Lawan Isa and Hon. Peter Biye, all members of House of Representatives from the state. Others who arrived with Sheriff in the flight were Alhaji Mala Othman and Alhaji Yusuf Adamu both former chairman and secretary of the defunct , All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) respectively.
Investigations revealed that Sheriff’s visit suffered setback as one person was allegedly killed by a stray bullet when shots were fired by security officers to scare off some political thugs who had laid siege at the residence of Sheriff, who made an appearance in the town after a long absence.
The gunshots recorded casualty as a council official who worked as a treasurer in Kala-Balge Local Government Area, was said to have been killed by stray bullets by policemen who tried to disperse the thugs whose mission to the residence of the politician could not be immediately ascertained. Sources in town said they were at the residence to harass the former governor who is said to be finalising plans to join the PDP.
Pundits observed that the closure of the airport is not unconnected with politics and far from security reasons as claimed by the Federal Government as, the permit granted for the plane carrying ex-Borno state governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to fly into the airport might be a ploy to induce him into PDP.
As expected, the development was greeted with outcry based on the stated reasons. However a cross section of residents who spoke to our correspondent, accused the Federal Government of bias, describing the scenario as politically-motivated.
Malam Kolo Bulama, wondered why Federal Government used security forces to bar planes for pilgrims and Governor Kashim Shettima from taking off from the airport for security reasons, while ex-governor Sheriff’s private jet was allowed to land unhindered. Another resident, Ba’ana Bakura said it was unfair for the government to politicize the counter insurgency operations to muzzle the opposition and abuse the religious obligations of citizens. He alleged that the decision to permit Sheriff’s plane to fly into the airport signified President Goodluck Jonathan-led government ‘s bias and injustice against government and people of Borno state.
“Is Sheriff above the law or was President Jonathan trying to show to the people that the former governor is more influential than a serving governor? Or was his trip more important than that of the 278 pilgrims who were barred from taking off to the Holy land?”, he qeried.
The resident, also alleged that the former governor might have been permitted to fly into the airport as part of the Jonathan’s desperation to please Sheriff and actualise his ambition to dump All Progressives Congress, (APC) and join Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP). Observing that Sheriff’s arrival to Maiduguri had plunged the residents into sorrow and confusion as police and soldiers were harassing everybody and blockeing major roads, which halted vehicular movements for over three hours,. Adding, he said one would think it was, “the president of the country that was making an appearance.
“They beat many people up and blocked the major roads with armoured tanks that should have been deplored to fight insurgents. It was during the harassment and the shooting that a man who was not part of the crowd was hit by a stray bullet which killed him”, he further alleged.