There is a serious brush between the Federal Government and the Rivers State Government over a private airline that flew some people into the State.

The Rivers State Government had arrested the two pilots and charged them to court. The Pilots were remanded in prison custody.

On Wednesday, The federal government said that the two Caverton Helicopters pilots arrested in Rivers state by Governor Nyesome Wike over lockdown violation were duly authorized to fly. This was disclosed by the Minister of Aviation Senator Hadi Sirika while briefing journalists in Abuja.

Minister of State for Aviation, Alhaji Senator Hadi Sirika.

He said the state Commissioner of Police and the Commander of Air Force Base in Port Harcourt that witnessed the arrest of the pilots exhibited dangerous ignorance and lack of competence and would have to answer for their actions. He said: “On whether we gave the arrested pilots approval to fly, civil aviation is on exclusive list item number three there. So no other person but the federal government has authority to legislate upon. So also is the Nigerian Airforce, Armed Forces are also on exclusive list, there is no other person that has the legal rights to legislate upon. “The Air Force officer who jumped the commander in Chief and ignored, also jumped the Chief of Defense staff and ignored, who jumped the Chief of Air Staff and ignored, to call a governor to come into the property of the Federal Government of Nigeria to make an arrest, exhibited dangerous ignorance and incompetence grossly. “The police that followed the governor to go in there exhibited dangerous ignorance from our perspective in civil aviation. “Whether we gave approval for the flight, yes we did and we did in national interest. All of these flights are for the purposes of improving the national revenue to which Rivers State is the greatest beneficiary. “Those flights by Caverton, Aero Contractor, Arik, Bristo and were for national interest and improved national revenue. At a time where oil has gone below $30 per barrel and the cost of production is $30. “In the wisdom of President Muhammadu Buhari he thought that this be allowed so that the nation will not be crippled and national revenue will not be lost. It was against this background that we have the authority and being exclusively on the exclusive list and we have the powers in civil aviation, guided by the Civil Aviation act 2016 approved such flights. “Those flights were approved lawfully, legally and correct. So yes, we will do everything lawful and legal and reasonable to get those pilots back and operations will continue in national interest.”

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike

However, The Rivers State Government earlier on Wednesday declared Carveton Helicopters, Persona Non Grata in the state and ordered the closure of all of its offices in the state. Governor, Nyesom Wike directed Local Government Council Chairmen to close the offices of Carveton 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 chose 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.”

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 were 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.”

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 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.

- By our Reporters.

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