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By Emmanuel Aziken

The controversy surrounding the Rivers State Government-owned helicopters best exemplifies the saying that in politics there are no permanent positions, but permanent interests.

Politicians will switch sides whenever their interests are best protected. In the course of political adaptability, politicians have been found to destroy national institutions as the helicopter incident is now seen to be doing to the image of the Customs.

The story of the two armoured Bell helicopters flows back to the beginning of the decade when the relationship between Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State and President Goodluck Jonathan was rock solid.

Apparently determined to check the spate of criminality in Rivers State, Governor Amaechi with the support of the Jonathan administration ordered the two Bell helicopters and as we now know, with $15 million support from the Federal Government.

The helicopters were to form part of the security architecture that Amaechi was building to check crime. As part of that set up, scores of policemen were trained in Israel by the Amaechi administration, while a number of Israeli security advisers were ferried into the state. Security cameras and dogs were also deployed around the state that at that time had become a haven for criminals and bandits.

The helicopters were to be at the peak of the security architecture that Governor Amaechi boasted would leave criminals totally exposed. From the air the armed helicopters equipped with night vision equipment would beam their searchlight on the bandits.

However, at about the time, the deal to import the helicopters was agreed, Mrs. Patience Jonathan and Governor Amaechi had their famous falling out at the Okirika Water Front when the First Lady publicly scolded Amaechi. That became the turning point in the relationship between the Jonathans and Amaechi, and led to the politicisation of governance and the relationship between the two men.

The specially trained policemen who had received training in Israel to operate in the state were not long after reportedly transferred out of Rivers State making a waste of the millions of naira invested into their training.

Even more, the Federal Government subsequently dithered on the earlier gentleman agreement to support the importation of the armoured helicopters.

That was how the helicopters were stranded while crime made a resurgence in the state.

However, with the switch in administrations in Rivers and at Abuja in 2015, the drama and intrigues it seemed did not go away.

Months after the Nyesom Wike administration came on board it claimed to have discovered that the state had helicopters wasting away at the ports. The PDP administration asked the APC Federal Government for a waiver to the custom duties including demurrage which reportedly ran into billions of naira. The state government buttressed the need for the waiver on the fact that the helicopters were not for commercial use but for security purposes.

The APC Federal Government according to documents presented by the Wike administration turned down the application for the waiver.

In frustration, Governor Wike wrote the National Security Adviser to hand over the helicopters to the Nigerian Air Force on the ground that the state cannot afford the money to clear the helicopter.

It was thus a shock when officials of the Customs at a ceremony last week handed over the two helicopters to the Nigerian Air Force, claiming that they were confiscated from unknown importers. That was despite the fact that the state government had been in correspondence with federal authorities.

How Customs officials would allow their institution to be used for such murky political passions, show how politicians damage national institutions. It is a shame that the two aircraft that would have curtailed the reign of insecurity in Rivers State became pawns for political manipulation.

The shame goes to both the PDP and APC which at several times had control of the Federal Government but allowed partisan politics to becloud good judgment! It is a shame!



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