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Column: That ‘Closure’ Of Jalingo Airport Against Senator Bwacha

By Iliyasu Gadu

The attempt by the Airport Manager of the Danbaba Suntai Airport Jalingo, Engr Danlami Iwhen to attribute the 'closure' of the airport while a plane carrying Senator Emmanuel Bwacha was due to land was disingenuous and an insult to our collective intelligence.

The airport manager's explanation was that the airport was overdue for routine maintenance and if Senator Bwacha's plane was allowed to land, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) the regulatory body of the civil aviation sector would have clamped down on the airport.

Yet a few hours earlier that same airport allowed an Overland Air flight from Abuja to land and take off. It was only Senator Bwacha's flight that could not be allowed to land.

Aviation buffs and frequent flyers like me know that Senator Bwacha's flight could not have been allowed to take off at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja without prior contact and clearance from the Jalingo airport. This is standard procedure in Aviation practice.

So in all probability the decision to deny Senator Bwacha's flight from landing must have been taken while the plane was airborne and en route Jalingo most likely on the basis of a ''security report'' to the authorities in Jalingo. And the decision to order the closure of the airport was promptly taken and relayed to the flight crew.

For whatever reasons that was a dangerous, panicky decision that could have resulted in an avoidable and regrettable incident.

Imagine for instance if that airplane did not have enough fuel to make it to the nearest airport in Yola. Or if the aircraft had some technical issues on board and needed to make an emergency landing.

No the decision to close the airport to Senator Bwacha's flight had little or nothing to do with the sudden need to comply with NCAA regulations. NCAA's manual of operations does not allow for flights that have been cleared for landing at destination airports to be denied landing while approaching the airport. The only possible reason why such a flight will be denied landing is if there is a sudden weather issue or if some bandits or terrorists had taken over the airport.

The decision to close the airport was most likely for political and security reasons. Political because it is the worst kept secret that between Senator Bwacha and his Excellency Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba state there is no love lost politically and otherwise. Senator Bwacha was planning on making a grand entry into Jalingo for his All Progressive Congress (APC) congress taking place in the state capital. And the Governor who is the boss of the state may have been advised to squelch that. In the current bad blood that exist between the two the Governor will need little persuasion to approve a decision to deny the Senator landing at the Jalingo airport which in any case is owned by the state government.

The decision could also be security related. Reports had it that Senator Bwacha's supporters had massed dangerously at the airport in several buses and vehicles chanting provocative songs and in a manner that could pose security challenges in a state that is coping with security issues.

Is Taraba under siege by violent elements?

As of the time of writing this article, the officer commanding the 93rd Infantry Battalion of the Nigerian Army based in Takum Lt. Colonel Emenike Okore and six others made up of soldiers from his battalion and policemen are still missing and presumed dead. They were reportedly ambushed in Tati town near Takum by unknown assailants, suspected by the authorities to be either Kuteb or Fulani militia both of which have been engaged in bouts of bloodletting against each other for some time now in parts of southern Taraba.

The commanding officer had reportedly led his men on a mission to pacify the area after following the outbreak of violence by militia on both sides which has rendered Takum and Ussa local governments unsafe for both the locals and visitors alike.

To put it in proper perspective the incident involving Lt. Col Okorie is the latest in the series of violent incidents that have gripped Taraba of late making Tarabans to wonder whether the state has been targeted by violent extremist groups as a base for the next phase of their campaign of violence not just in Taraba but in the North central region of Nigeria.

Before the Takum incident, there was a bomb explosion in Ardo Kola at a location which doubles as a market and relaxation joint in which people lost their lives in gory images which made distressing viewing for those who dare. And just as the outrage of Tarabans to that incident was still being expressed, another explosion this time at Nukkai on the entrance to Jalingo the state capital took place.

Then the Takum incident.

It is without doubt an escalation of the violence that has gripped our state of late and coming in quick succession, this is one too many it has to be said.

In a recent footnote to a column I wrote titled ''No to terrorists in Taraba'' after the bombing incident in Ardo Kola, I highlighted the dangers posed to Taraba state of allowing the presence of extremists in our state with their agenda of violence. Some of these elements having been routed elsewhere in Nigeria especially in the North East and North West regions by the fire power of our armed forces were reportedly slipping quietly into Taraba state and setting up camps in remote areas to train and launch their nefarious activities against innocent and unsuspecting Tarabans.

In furtherance of their zero tolerance against such undesirable elements who are taking advantage of the hospitality of Tarabans, the Nigeria Air Force located and took out the camps of the terrorists in Karim-Lamido and Gassol local government areas.

It would appear from all indications, having had their infrastructure of terror degraded in those areas these elements have now relocated and regrouped in other parts of the state.

If we have been lackadaisical about it before now, the combination of the aforementioned incidents especially the ambushing and presumed killing of the commanding officer of the Takum based 93 battalion and his men should wake us Tarabans from our slumber from the present and clear dangers that activities of extremists groups now in our midst pose to us all. 

There should be no pussyfooting about it; from the pattern of the incidents our state is on the cross hairs of extremist groups bent on spreading mayhem and causing disaffection among Tarabans.

And Tarabans should worry that not only will they be directly affected, our state will likely be a launch pad for the destabilization of the entire north central, south south and south east regions. This is clearly unacceptable and we must resist it with all possible emphasis.

The calibration of the violence seems to coincide with the heightened political activities in the state and country. By the reckoning of most people, the run up period to the 2023 elections which we are now in holds dark forebodings for Taraba. The high stakes politicking which we are now witnessing among the political gladiators in the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) makes for a highly combustible political atmosphere in the state. There is no love lost within both parties and between them. And this has created a charged and tense situation in which the threat of violence is not far from the surface.

Many Tarabans entertain the fear that at some point, the political gladiators may join up with some of the violent groups threatening the relative peace being enjoyed in the state in order to either destabilise the political process or to disable their opponents. As some of our political gladiators are known for their preference for political skulduggery in their politics and having shown traces of this untoward behaviour in their current political campaigns, Tarabans cannot but wake up and smell the coffee.

A probable link up between desperate politicians and violent extremist groups is a deadly proposition for Taraba. It is a double whammy that will turn our state into a killing field which will do nobody including even the perpetrators no good.

The onus therefore is on us ordinary folks to as they say ''shine our eyes''. If we collectively by our actions reject the on-going campaign of violence by extremist groups and succeed in rolling it back, then our political gladiators having seen our resolve not to allow violence to take root in our state will be forced to be circumspect in promoting political violence in the political race to 2023 elections.

For now though what remains is to pray for the gallant officer and his men who were ambushed in the line of duty. If they are alive wherever they are, we plead with their captors to release them. If however they have been killed then we plead yet again that their corpses be released for decent burial either by the army and police authorities or their families.

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