The two pilots working for a private helicopter company, Caverton Helicopters, which is at the center of a disagreement between the Rivers State Government and the Federal Government, have been released.
Sources told theportcitynews that the pilots were secretly released by the state government on Wednesday following a spat with the federal ministry of aviation.
The pilots, Samuel Ugorji – a retired Airforce officer, and Samuel Buhari were on Tuesday remanded in the Nigerian Correctional Centre by Chief Magistrate .D.D. Ihua-Maduenyi in Port Harcourt for flouting the directive of the State Government on border closure.
The pilots and passengers were however diverted by the state COVID-19 taskforce and had since been placed under quarantine in the state-owned hotel known as Delta Hotels in Port Harcourt.
However, Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said on Wednesday evening that Civil Aviation is on the exclusive list.
“No other person but the federal government has the authority to legislate that. So the Nigeria Air Force and the Armed Forces are also on the exclusive list. There is no other person but the federal government that has the legal right to legislate that.
“So, the Air Force officer who jumped the Commander in Chief and ignored, who also jumped the Chief of Defence Staff and ignored, who jumped the Chief of Air Staff and ignored to call a governor to come into the property of a federal government and blaming the Nigeria Air Force has exhibited dangerous ignorance and incompetence grossly.
“So, the police that followed the governor in there to make the arrest also exhibited dangerous ignorance from our perspective in civil aviation.
“We approved the flight and we did in the national interest. All of those flights were to improve the national revenue to which River state is the greatest beneficiary. So, those flights by Caverton, Aero Contractor, Bristow, Arik and a couple more were for national interests and improved national revenue” he said.
But Wike in a State Broadcast on Wednesday night directed Local Government Council Chairmen to close the Offices of Caverton Helicopters across the state.
He said: “We appreciate the need to protect business interests and operations in the State and we will do whatever that is required to ensure that no business is unduly affected by the measures we have taken to combat the Coronavirus.
“However, we shall not welcome businesses or companies that value their business activities or profit more than or in clear disregard of the lives and health of our people.
“By its actions, Calverton Helicopters have clearly shown that Rivers lives do not matter to it. It is an enemy of Rivers people and is hereby declared persona non grata in Rivers State.
“With this declaration, Calverton Helicopters can only choose to operate in any part of Rivers State at its own risk as Local Government Chairmen have been directed to close their offices and prevent their operations.”
Governor Wike said that the highly insensitive and provocative actions of Calverton Helicopters took place in the midst of credible intelligence reports about plans by enemies of the state to traffic carriers of the dreaded Coronavirus into the State.
He said: “Their morbid intention is to create panic by pushing up the infection rate and rubbish the robust measures we have since put in place to cut off the spread of the virus and keep our State and our citizens safe and secure from the ravaging pandemic.
”As expected, and required by our laws, the crew and the passengers on board that ill-fated helicopter was promptly arrested by the law enforcement personnel and are being prosecuted before our courts in line with our COVID 19 Declarations and Containment Orders.
“Calverton Helicopters claimed to have gotten permits from some federal agencies to fly passengers into the State, which never bordered to take the State Government into confidence in issuing such permits in violation of our laws and containment orders.
“While federal agencies reserve the right to issue flight permits to airline operators to fly into Rivers State, we insist that the State Government must equally be informed and taken into confidence in the process.
“This the only way to avoid suspicion, conflicts of interests and unnecessary bickering between the State and Federal Governments in our collective efforts to combat the spread of COVID 19 in the country.”
Governor Wike added: “Let me reiterate that for us, COVID 19 in Rivers State is a matter of life and death, and we will never succumb to any blackmail from any person, institution or authority in our determination to protect our citizens and our State from the spread of this deadly virus.
“Since we triggered the law on Calverton Helicopters, we have seen and read all sorts of hilarious and frivolous comments, particularly on social media, questioning the propriety of our actions against the carrier and its passengers
“At this time and under the present situation, nothing; I repeat; nothing, is more important to us than to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of our citizens no matter the cost, and we shall spare no efforts to achieve this singular most fundamental objective of our Government.”
The Rivers State Governor said that the action of Calverton Helicopters when they conveyed passengers of doubtful Coronavirus status into the State was in flagrant violation of the State Government’s total restriction on flights into Port Harcourt.
“We have sworn to protect the lives and advance the wellbeing of our people, and nothing can stop us from taking all necessary steps to prevent or stop any person, action or activities that would endanger the lives of our citizens,” he said.