France on Sunday admitted that it owned the contents of a cargo plane that was impounded on Saturday at Kano Airport, northwestern Nigeria.
It insisted, however, that – contrary to some press reports – “there were absolutely no weapons or ammunitions on board of the aircraft.”
“A Russian commercial plane carrying two light Gazelle helicopters belonging to the French Army had unexpectedly landed in Kano on Saturday December 6, early in the afternoon,” French Ambassador in Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de LABRIOLLE, said in a statement.
He added that the French military had contracted the Russian aircraft to help ferry two light helicopters from Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), to Ndjamena, the capital of Chad.
The French Ambassador added that the shipment was organized as the size of the French military intervention in CAR was being reduced in the light of a previous announcement by French authorities.
De LABRIOLLE said the cargo airplane had a regular flight plan from Bangui to Ndjamena and that the plane had “diplomatic clearance given it” by the Foreign Ministry in Nigeria.
“The freight consisted of 2 Gazelle helicopters (4-seater light liaison helicopters) with spare-parts and maintenance items,” the French Ambassador said.
“Two French military non-commissioned officers
escorted the equipment as passengers,” he added.
He said air traffic conditions were too dense for the plane to land in Ndjamena, which obliged it to divert to an alternate airport, noting that Kano was the closest airport for the plane.
The French diplomat added that this was why the Russian crew of the plane had decided to fly to Kano airport, refuel and then take off again on the way to Njamena Airport.
“Due to the nationality of the aircraft and the nature of the cargo, Kano airport authorities had decided to check the flight’s plan, the clearance and the cargo manifesto before authorizing the plane to leave,” the ambassador said.
He added that the aircraft had its documents cleared by Nigerian authorities to continue its journey to Ndjamena.
He noted that being satisfied with the documents and the genuine character of the flight, federal Nigerian airport authorities authorized the plane to keep moving on the way to Ndjamena.
De LABRIOLLE said hiring Russian companies to transport French
military equipment was common practice for France, noting that moving helicopters between CAR and Chad was part of French efforts to boost the regional fight against terrorism.
He said this was done in the light of an agreement among the presidents of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and
Cameroon during a security summit in the French capital Paris in May of 2014.
Soon after the plane was impounded, the Russian embassy in Nigeria said on Twitter that the aircraft was not owned by Russia.
The Nigerian Defense Ministry also said that it was investigating the incident.
The event had, however, sparked major cyberspace debates at a time Nigerians were still trying to answer questions about the sources of arms flowing to the militant Boko Haram movement, which has been battling the authorities in Nigeria for a long time now.
Nigeria has been battling an insurgency in its northeastern region for five years now. Thousands people have been killed and millions of others displaced so far.