Abuja — The Ukrainian aircraft seized at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport on Tuesday last week may soon become a subject of diplomatic unease between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.
THISDAY was informed yesterday that the government of the country, which shares the Gulf of Guinea with Nigeria, is laying claim to the ownership of the "cargo" aboard the aircraft, whereas Nigerian security operatives suspect the arms and ammunition were meant for Niger Delta militants.
The aircraft was reportedly loaded with 18 crates of arms and ammunition, when it was impounded by security agents, although there is yet no official statement on the development.
It had been reported that the aircraft made a stop-over to refuel in Nigeria but security sources had said there was more to it as some of the documents and weapons said to have been recovered by men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) during their raid on militants' Camp 5 allegedly established that Ukraine was a major source of arms and ammunition to the militants.
A security source said: "I understand there are discrepancies between what was declared on the manifest and what was found on the plane but the issue is being handled by both the office of the National Security Adviser and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because the government of Equatorial Guinea has made claims with regards to the plane and the arms found."
He said considering the "sinister role" some arms dealers in Ukraine from where the flight took off have been playing in the Niger Delta, "government cannot take anything for granted on the issue".
He said investigations into the matter would be concluded this week and a clear position would be made public over the whole issue which made news headlines for most of last week.
The source also said the Federal Government is dissatisfied with the handling of the issue by the embassy of Equatorial Guinea in Nigeria.
"I understand the Equatorial Guinea Ambassador wrote a letter but even that is procedurally wrong... such a letter should come from his home office," the source added.
Last month, gunmen launched an assault on the Presidential Palace in Equatorial Guinea. It was initially thought to be a coup attempt but the Malabo authorities denied it, accusing Nigerian militants of perpetrating the act.
The gunmen, who stormed Malabo in several gunboats, attacked the presidential palace from the country's territorial waters around which Equatorial Guinea shared maritime boundary with Nigeria.
According to the government of Equatorial Guinea, "our country was once again the victim of an attack by the rebels of the Niger Delta on the city of Malabo. The Niger Delta crisis is now a major threat to our country. A contingent of rebel terrorists from the Niger Delta arrived in numerous boats and tried to invade the capital city of Malabo, with the aim of taking and destroying the presidential palace".
It was also being discussed in security circles that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) might be behind the arms importation because of the militants' group threat to attack Northern Nigeria for not supporting MEND's campaign.
The impounded aircraft with registration number MEM 4-060 (UR-CAK) is still parked at the Kano airport.
Some of the weapons and ammunition on board include howitzers, rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars.
Trouble started for the crew after refuelling when officials of the Customs and Immigration Services reportedly observed some suspicious information supplied by the crew in the flight discharge form, and strongly demanded to know the contents of the plane following the crew's refusal to declare its content in the form accompanying the cargo.