Military Bars Senator Ndume, 278 Umrah Pilgrims From Travelling Through Maiduguri Airport

Maiduguri airport

Military commands in Borno State today barred hundreds of intending pilgrims from taking off from Maiduguri International Airport to perform Umrah in Saudi Arabia despite the intervention of the Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, a situation that raised tension at the airport.
A max airline chartered by a Hajj and Umrah operator, Skynet International Limited, had arrived Maiduguri earlier today to convey 278 intending pilgrims that had undergone all security checks and were waiting to board the plane when military issued what many regard as strange orders, directing the plane to take-off empty while insisting that the hundreds of pilgrims travel five hours to Kano through the not too secured Maiduguri-Damaturu-Potiskum road to take-off from Kano airport.
The military, citing 'orders from above' said their action was for security reasons. Explanations by officials of Borno State Government, including Governor Shettima that pilgrims carrying pocket money and moving to Kano by road from Maiduguri could be at risk given past instances of attacks along Maiduguri-Damaturu-Potiskum route, was turned down by the military. The management of Skynet which chartered the max airline had explained that it had written letters to the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and military authorities that include the Brigade command, the police headquarters and the air force authorities and it was duly authorised to go on with the operations given the fact that previous exercises took place in 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency in Maiduguri and yet, flights landed and took off to Saudi Arabia hitch free.
The military insisted it wasn't allowing this year's Umrah operations in Maiduguri on the orders of the chief of air staff that the airport be immediately closed to commercial aircrafts and the max airline had to leave empty after it landed hitch free in Maiduguri airport. Some Government officials were worried that the military might be playing a script to frustrate the Government being controlled by the opposition APC.
Just when the dust was yet to die down, the military also yesterday, barred a serving Senator, representing Borno South Senatorial District, Mohammed Ali Ndume alongside a serving member of House of Representatives, representing Gwoza, Chibok, Damboa Federal Constituency of Borno State from boarding an aircraft chartered by the Borno State after an 8-seater aircraft arrived Maiduguri with some Government officials it conveyed from Abuja.‎ The military ordered the plane to take-off empty, leaving behind all eight persons, including the two lawmakers scheduled to board the flight to Abuja from Maiduguri.
Tension flared up  at the airport as intending pilgrims become agitated, a situation that made Governor Shettima to send the State SSG, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda to address  the pilgrims and calm their nerves. The pilgrims left in numerous buses driving through the night in order not to miss the flight's inaugural slot to land in Saudi Arabia.
The ‎Maiduguri airport has been officially opened some months ago by the Nigerian Air Space Management Agency after it was closed when insurgents attacked the Nigerian Air Force base near the airport. The Borno State Government had on the request of NAMA, intervened with donation of high powered electricity generator along with other facilities to NAMA which were installed in January at the Maiduguri airport. Aircrafts have been consistently landing and taking off from the airport since January without any incident recorded. It was therefore not clear why the military took today's actions.


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