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Lawyers disagree over governor Nyesom Wike’s arrest, prosecution of pilots

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Nyesome Wike

Reacting to the arrest, detention and prosecution of Caverton Helicopter pilots in River State by governor Nyesom Wike over the violation of his lockdown directives, some Nigerian lawyers have disagreed on the legality or otherwise of the governor’s action.
While some are of the view that all must obey the regulations issued by a governor of a federating state, another said the governor lacks the power to so act.

Lagos based lawyers, Stephen Azubuike, said in this trying and desperate times, state governors are taking measures to protect their territories within their constitutional mandate of protecting the lives and properties of subjects within the States.

Rivers state, he said is not left behind, warranting governor Wike to issue the lockdown directives that everyone within the jurisdiction of the state is bound to comply with it.

He said: ‘In view of this, it is arguable whether the issue of the arrest and detention of the pilots is strictly a constitutional issue. It is my view that it is not. What is at stake is also the issue of the health and safety of the people of Rivers, which is within the legislative competence of the State.

“I believe that instead of flexing legal muscles in this perilous times, the government and the eminent personalities involved should urgently enter into a dialogue, which will culminate into the immediate release of those detained.”

Owerri, Imo state based lawyer, Ike Augustine said the whole saga was avoidable if there had been a proper communication between the federal government and the Rivers state government.

According to him, Nigeria is a country comprising of federating states and the argument that matters of Aviation are under the exclusive list is not tenable.

“Rivers state government declared a total lockdown of the state in a swift response to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and violation of same is criminal under the guidelines issued in that regard by the state government. Anyone who wishes to so operate must seek approval from the state government, as this is not just an aviation matter but violation of the guidelines issued by the Rivers state government.

“If we truly profess to practice federalism, we should endeavour to keep to its tenets by recognising the powers of the federating States. We saw what happened when President Donald Trump of the U.S.A. proposed to shut down New York but had to drop the proposal after the governor of that state fiercely resisted it; that’s true federalism. I urge Nigeria to move away from the practice of pseudo and ‘feeding bottle’ federalism,” he stressed.

However, human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong believes that the action of the River state governor is outright illegal. Aviation, according to him, is under the Exclusive List under Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution.

“The order of the governor banning air travel is ultra vires. Since Carveton obtained the necessary approvals from the federal government, governor Wike has no authority to interfere with their operation.

“I also find the remand order by the court extreme and indefensible. This is a case of persecution not prosecution. It is shameful that a state governor who swore to uphold the Constitution is acting like a sole administrator. We cannot allow the impunity in Rivers state to stand,” he declared.

Former second vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani said even though Aviation is under the exclusive list in the constitution, some of those measures taken by state governments can be overlooked as far as they are taken to protect the lives of citizens in the fight against the virus.

He however urged the parties to shield their swords and settle the matter amicably. “Let all tempers be forced to go down, both parties should dispense pride and allow amicable and peaceful resolution of this impasse. One of the ways out of this crisis is for the State Government through the Attorney General of the State to ask for an earlier date and have nolle prosequi entered under Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution as Amended to discontinue the case and have the pilots released to their employers.

“The state government should in addition unseal the Aviation company in Port Harcourt immediately and allow peace to reign,” he stated.


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