The Defence Headquarters has said that contrary to reports in many newspapers and online media, it did not close the Maiduguri airport to deny its use for airlift of Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, instead, the airport was only observing restriction of the facility to military use in view of ongoing military operations in the area.
The Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade, who made the clarification yesterday in a statement, added that the Airport was shut after an assessment of the situation, which indicated that such a massive airlift of passengers could not be permitted in the light of the security threat in the area.
Olukolade explained that if those in charge of the pilgrimage exercise appreciated the present security situation and the implication of such massive airlift of passengers, they would have ensured that proper security procedure was in place before embarking on the ‘important’ exercise.
“Apparently, the implications of such massive airlift and traffic from the facility in the light of present security situation was not appreciated early enough by those planning the exercise to enable proper security procedure be installed for the important exercise”, he said.
The Defence spokesman, however, added that an alternative arrangement with the relevant authorities in Borno State had been put in place to continue with the exercise, which, he said, had been going on smoothly despite the inconvenience.
The Defence Spokesman urged the public to exercise caution to avoid playing into the hands of those deliberately undermining national security.
“The sensitivity of the situation in the country calls for due caution and conscious effort to avoid yielding to the pressure from those who are apparently sympathetic to those working frantically to undermine the nation’s security.
“The public is therefore requested to ignore all insinuations inferring religious or political connotations from the security measures put in place in Maiduguri airport. The intention has never been to jeopardize the airlifting of pilgrims as has been wrongly portrayed”, the statement read.
Maj-Gen. Olukolade also appealed to the media not to allow itself to be used by those he described as “seeking to make political or economic capital out of the security situation by insinuating a religious or political connotation to every effort”, insisting that “the restriction in the airport is purely for security reasons”.