By Ayobami Oyalowo
When news broke that a private plane from Nigeria was seized in South Africa with about $10m in new notes, my heart palpitated and I was askance even though I was in the midst of others. My fear steamed for a few facts. I was sure that the federal government of Nigeria will do what it does best; keep mum and then later will either deny or offer some lame explanations while muddling up the waters sufficiently enough by using pawns to obliterate the facts of the matter and politicizing the issues, hereby diverting our attention away to other things.
Sad to say, I have been proved right on every count. Not only have they started their campaign of calumny, they have used a most saddening approach; they are playing the religious card. Why is the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) getting involved in a supposedly private matter of such dangerous proportion? We shall come back to the CAN later on. Suffice to say that Nigeria is in deeper troubles than we are presently prepared to admit to. Sadly, the trouble and danger inherent is potent enough and highly dangerous to our corporate existence, while collectively playing the ostrich will benefit no one eventually.
Here are the facts of the matter. On 5th September 2014, a Bombardier Challenger 600, with a Nigerian flight crew piloted by Captain Tunde Ojongbede, flew into South Africa and landed at Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg. Eventually we got to understand that there were two planes and not one that flew in to South Africa. The other plane involved, used by Swat Inc., a Hawker Siddeley 125, also with an American registration number (N497AG), landed at Lanseria Airport last month.
That plane and its passengers remained in the country for two days before returning to Abuja on August 13. When the passengers’ luggage were checked, officials of SA Revenue Service (Sars), found undeclared raw cash of $9.3 million on the passengers. On board one the seized aircrafts was also an Abuja-based Israeli man, Eyal Mesika, whom we were told was the only man with the combinations to open the lock on the suit cases containing the cash to be laundered or used to purchase illegal arms by the order of some unnamed persons in the Nigerian Government.
One amazing fact is that the Nigerian government has maintained a curious silence since the scandal broke on September 5th when South African law enforcement agents confiscated $9.3 million from the two private jets. If Sahara Reporters did not blow the lid on the illegality, I doubt if ordinary Nigerians would have known the kind of gang we currently parade as political and religious leaders.
South African airport security spokesman Solomon Makgale confirmed a police investigation was underway but declined to give details. The aircraft was temporarily impounded, but was allowed to returnto Abuja about four days after the initial arrest of the plane because the Nigerian governmentreached out to its South African counterparts, ostensibly to douse the tension and keep the fact away from the public. The arrested passengers apparently told officials they were acting on behalf of the Nigerian intelligence service, and they provided documentation confirming they had come to South Africa to buy weapons. However, the National onventional Arms Control Committee, which has to approve the import and export of any weapons as well as issue permits for such transactions, was not aware of any applications in this case. It is also not clear whether the Israeli passenger was an intelligence operative or an arms dealer.
A spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority disclosed that the country’s investigators found the Nigerian arms buyers with invoices from two South African firms called Tier One and ESD. The invoices were for armaments and a helicopter. We can safely conclude therefore that the arms deal was supposed to be a black market operation and therefore an illegal arm purchase. Such arms could end up anywhere either in the hands of the Niger Delta militants, political thugs and assassins, or even the dreaded Boko Haram militants…your guess is as good as mine.
After much hush hush, it finally emerged that the bombardier jet involved in the illegal money laundering and purchase of black market arms belonged to Pastor Oritsejafor . Here are few questions keen watchers have been asking. FAAN just over a year ago readjusted the laws guiding the usage of
non-scheduled commercial operators. The law according to the Nigerian aviation authorities seeks to regulate and stop the abuse by private jets owners, who turn their planes over for commercial purposes illegally.
Therefore, one should ask, why was Pastor Ayo private jet leased out for a supposedly commercial purpose since August 2nd 2014 according to him? I am a Christian and, as such, a member of CAN.
Pastor Ayo should be left alone to defend himself and his private business without dragging CAN alongside himself. Why has CAN become the private enterprise of one man? His ownership of the jet has raised several questions in the past. One of which is that the plane seized by South African officials is actually registered in the US for use only as a private jet, not for commercial purposes. Another issue is does Pastor Oritsejafor owns more than one jet? In 2012, he claimed that members of his congregation presented him with the gift of a jet. However, the registration number of the jet detained by South African authorities differs from the registration details for the jet purchased by Oritsejafor’s congregants. In response to criticism of his acquisition of a private jet, the pastor had argued that he needed the jet to enable him to travel widely for events related to his ministry. The question then is whether the commercial leasing of a private jet is part of Oritsejafor’s ministry?
Ayobami Oyalowo via Twitter: @Ayourb