Nigeria: Weapons-Laden Plane, From Ukraine, Caught In Kano

KANO, Nigeria -- A cargo plane fully loaded with arms and ammunition was intercepted by security operatives at the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano in the early of yesterday. The plane and its four crew members are now detained at the Nigeria Air Force wing of the airport.

Sources said there were eight heavy crates of various weapons and ammunition on board the plane, thought to include rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, mortars and howitzers.

Daily Trust learnt that the plane, which arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday night from the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, was heading for the West African country of Guinea-Bissau, and it stopped over in Kano at about 4:00am to refuel.

The plane, with registration number UR-CAK, believed to be of Russian make, was being heavily guarded by fierce-looking soldiers at the time of filing in this report. A source told Daily Trust that the crew members were locked up in the office of the Airforce Commandant at the airport and were being interrogated by military authorities.

Apart from the armed soldiers guarding the aircraft, nobody was seen around the plane as there was an order by the airport commandant that movement of civilians and airport staff around the plane should be restricted for security reasons. Curious journalists who dashed to the airport were turned back by security operatives at the entry point into the airport tarmac.

Daily Trust learnt that the Guinea-Bissau-bound cargo plane ran out of luck after refueling when officials of the Nigeria Customs and Immigration Services noticed some defects in the information supplied by the crew in the flight discharge form.

The security operatives, it was also gathered, became suspicious of the crew's inability to declare in the form what the cargo plane was carrying, and therefore insisted that they must know the contents.

Under intense interrogation, the crew reportedly broke down and confessed that the plane was heading for Guinea-Bissau with arms and ammunition from Ukraine.

Officials of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other airport security operatives were all reluctant to speak on the matter yesterday, for what they described as "sensitive security issue".

FAAN's Deputy Director of Public Affairs Malam Ibrahim Shawai confirmed the interception of the plane, but he could not say much on the matter, since everything about it had now been transferred to the airport commandant for thorough military investigation as it involves arms and ammunition.

The airport commandant, Group Captain U. Adagbo, could not be found in his office when our reporter went there. Also scores of gun-totting soldiers right in front of the office who refused this reporter entry said the commandant did not have a second-in-command, when our reporter asked to see his deputy.

Kano Manager of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Mr. N.R. Odibikuma also confirmed the plane's detention, saying he would not discuss the matter any further because of its diplomatic implication. He however said everything would be known only upon completion of investigation by military authorities.

When Daily Trust called the Kano State Director of State Security Service (SSS) Bello Tukur Bakori for comments, he claimed ignorance of the whole matter, saying he was in Kebbi State for an official assignment. The same response was received from the police and Customs Service as their public image-makers said their bosses were all in Abuja for official engagements.

Nigeria Air Force's Director of Information Group Capt Sadiq Shehu also declined to comment, saying the Airforce would investigate the report. However, a source at Airforce Headquarters in Abuja confirmed to Daily Trust that a plane was actually detained in Kano, and Air Policemen had waded in to interrogate the crew members. The source said even though the crewmen claimed that they were going to Guinea-Bissau, there were suspicions that they were gun-running for Niger Delta militants.

Source: Africa Daily Trust