The closure was said to have prevented the pilot of the distressed Dana Air’s plane from making an emergency landing at the airport.
But the Ministry of Aviation denied the report, saying the President’s wife came to Lagos on Saturday and not Sunday.
Reports circulated through Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger on Tuesday had claimed that although the Dana plane had an engine failure, the distressed aircraft could have made it to the airport if it was not delayed by the VIP movement.
The social media also said the Presidential movement on Sunday affected some owners of private jets who were forced to story in the air for some times.
But a statement by the Special Assistant (Media) to the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Joe Obi, said the airspace was never closed for the First Lady on Sunday.
He said, “There is a widely circulating rumour that the airspace was closed to facilitate the First Lady’s movement and that that was partly responsible for the Dana plane crash of Sunday June 3, 2012. The Federal Ministry of Aviation will like to clarify that nothing could be farther from the truth.
“For the records, we wish state that the First Lady arrived in Lagos at about 4.45pm on Saturday, 2nd June, 2012 and only departed for Abuja on Monday, the 4th of June, 2012 at 1.30pm, whereas the ill-fated Dana flight 0992 departed Abuja on Sunday, 3rd of June, 2012 at 2.54pm and its last contact with the Lagos Control Tower was at 3.42pm as has already been announced. We wish to stress that the First Lady did not fly on Sunday, the 3rd of June, 2012 as is widely been speculated.”
An air traffic controller at the Lagos airport, who spoke under condition of anonymity, also said the airport did not record any Presidential movement on Sunday.
According to the official, an air traffic controller on duty on Sunday had told him earlier there was no time the “airfield was sterilised” for any VIP on Sunday.
In a statement by her Special Assistant, Mr. Ayo Osinlu, the wife of the president described the report as an orchestrated plan to politicise the Sunday crash.
She said it was “callous, inhuman and devilish” for anyone to have thought of wrapping such national calamity in political garb by insinuating that the plane crashed because the airspace was closed for her movement in Lagos.
“In compliance with her itinerary, the First Lady arrived Lagos on Saturday. She was at a public event on Sunday when the accident occurred and promptly abandoned the ceremony as a mark of respect for the victims and retired to the State House, Marina. She left Lagos at exactly 13.15hrs on Monday, 4th June, 2012, according to schedule.
“It is therefore surprising that some mischievous persons will see this moment of national mourning as an opportunity to blackmail and impugn the First Lady’s integrity.
“This is the time for all Nigerians to be sober and pray for the repose of the souls of the victims and not a time to subordinate the interests of our nation to narrow self-serving interests.
“Let us all put the interest of the nation first in whatever we do.”
The message which necessitated Mrs. Jonathan’s reaction had read in part, “Is there any way of getting confirmation about news I’m just getting that the Dana plane was distressed for a while but could not make an emergency landing because the airspace was closed for 2 hours for – the Presidential Jet carrying Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan.
“Private jet owners who had to hover in the air same time leaked this. This was apparently the reason local news didn’t report the crash for so long till CNN and foreign news stations started reporting it.
“Local news was ‘blacked out’ trying to kill the story of the airspace being closed while a distressed plane couldn’t land.”
A source however said, “It would be shocking if so. Though there was engine failure, there was still time for the plane to have landed apparently.
“You do know anyway that the airspace is closed for up to two hours each time the Presidential Jet needs to go into the air; two hours for a 15-minute takeoff or landing!”