To shake off Nigeria’s aviation security and fly an exec chartered jet in its closed air space requires just one thing: a willing airline with a smart alec as public relations handler working with control tower accomplices.
Any idiot—terrorists, orgy-famous hippies, other—can pull off the stunt anytime, including during war—as in Covid-19 viral war that has shut the airspace for months now in Nigeria.
After the plane has landed and mission accomplished, the PR whizz will clean up the mess—successfully.
Sam Iwajuoku, CEO of Executive Jet Airlines, operators of a 133-strong fleet spread across Africa and other continents, is doing just that after its pilots and crew breached Nigeria’s national security on Sunday. It flew a second-time offender Azeez Fashola (aka Naira Marley) in an unapproved flight from Lagos to Abuja. Nara Marley’s mission (a concert) and the venue (Jabi Lake Mall) were unapproved either.
It was a failure of enforcement, a constant threat to the safety and security of Nigeria’s air space. And, on the whole, it is also the reason foreign airlines zip through Nigeria’s skies to touch down in Accra and Lome.
It is the duty of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority to make operators like Exec fly straight. “Unfortunately, the enforcement of any regulation cannot be effective as long as the leadership of the responsible agencies are political appointees and not career staff,” aviation consultant and retired Grp Capt. John Ojikutu once lamented.
The politics of the Sunday breach might be difficult to explain. It matters still—how a ugly duckling of a rapper-turned-overnight-celebrity can manipulate an entire mace of civil aviation protocols and fly undetected from Lagos to attend a coke-fuelled shindig in the nation’s capital. The first time he did it—when he breached a curfew and social distancing law to perform in birthday party—was in Lagos. All he got then was a tap on the wrist: the state withdrew its suit, and made him do a jingle, with all the vulgarities that pepper his music, on social distancing.
On this second occasion, nothing may happen. The FCT Minister Mohammed Bello hasn’t decided the breaches are worth all this sweat. It even took more than 12 hours before the Presidential Task Force and the aviation authorities could respond.
Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika claimed approval for the Sunday flight was for an essential service, as opposed to what it was eventually used for.
It was originally approved for the flight was that of a high court justice.
“The flight, from the application, was to convey Justice Adefope-Okojie from Lagos to Abuja and back to Lagos for an official assignment,” said the minister.
But the airline had its own idea.
Iwajuoku explained how they stuck with their own discretion—in deciding what makes an essential service.
“When I went through the manifest and I saw Fashola Babatunde, I thought it was the Hon. Minister of Works going to Abuja so we decided to do the flight, since he is serving Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” said Iwajuoku in a letter on Monday.
No explanation could have been smarter, considering its rhyme and reason.
The hipster ferried to Abuja is Afeez Fashola, his surname the same as the works minister. Neither of them were listed in the ministry’s letter approving the flight.
Again, it was a private, chartered flight. But, curiously, there was enough room for the two Fasholas and a cabin-load of others: Adewunmi Segun, Chinonso Opara, Fashola Babatunde, Fashola Adeshina and Adeyeye Tobi, Michael Opeyemi, Idowu Emmanuel, Seyi Awonuga, Wisdom Intoto and Abayomi Akin.
All of them were listed in a manifest the airline boss claimed he got, which the PTF committee coordinator Sani Aliyu say they knew nothing about.
For flying the musician there, the airline got the hammer.
“So, Executive Jet Services’ operations are hereby suspended indefinitely and we will also fine the firm maximally according to the law,” he said June 15.
But for being clever by half—with this explanation of juggling the two Fasholas—the EJS and the sponsor of the Naira Marley show—might eventually get an audience.
After all, Sidika only announced the penalties. It’s still a mere proclamation.
The PTF also only “believes that the FCT authorities have already taken action with regards to the key organisers of the show”.