Wike, FG disagree over arrest of Carveton pilots, passengers
• Lawyers urge Abuja, Rivers cooperation to fight COVID-19
• Labour demands release of suspects, threatens to withdraw services
Friction is brewing between the Federal Government and Rivers State, following the arraignment of two Carveton Helicopters pilots and 10 passengers by the latter for violation of its COVID-19 containment orders.
The suspects, said to be oil workers, were arrested at the Air Force Base in Port Harcourt on Wednesday by the police and subsequently charged to court for disobeying government’s orders on restriction of movement.Governor Nyesom Wike had on March 19signed an Executive Order on COVID-19.
The governor, who had acknowledged that while his government might not have the legal right to stop flights from entering Port Harcourt, said it would not allow anybody coming from the airport to enter the state.
But on Sunday, the governor, in state broadcast, said the state had been inundated with letters from the Federal Government to allow oil companies to fly in expatriates to drill oil.
He stressed that despite not supporting the state’s effort to deal with the pandemic, the Federal Government had continued to endanger the state by in flying expatriates.
Amid the friction, the pilots on Wednesday conveyed passengers into Port Harcourt. It was alleged that the pilots and passengers, refused to subject themselves to prescribed tests. It was on this basis that the pilots and 10 passengers were arrested and subsequently arraigned before courts of competent jurisdiction to face trial.
Reacting, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, declared that the pilots were duly authorised to fly into the Air Force base, while Wike declared them persona non grata in the state.
The governor also instructed council chairmen to stop all operations of the helicopter company in their localities.
Meanwhile, legal practitioners who specialise in aviation and maritime issues have called on the Federal Government to work with the Rivers State to win the fight against COVID-19.
National President of Admiralty Lawyers’ Society of Nigeria, Angus Chukwuka, described the rift between the federal and Rivers governments over the arrest and arraignment of the two pilots who flew in oil workers as unnecessary distraction that might lead to the derailment of a successful fight against COVID 19.
Speaking in Port Harcourt yesterday, Chukwuka said “though the Federal Government has the exclusive jurisdiction to make laws on matters of aviation, the Rivers government also has a duty to protect its citizens from the deadly disease.”
The United Labour Congress (ULC) has demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the oil workers.Condemning the arrest and incarceration of Nigerian workers discharging their lawful duties in the state, president of ULC, Joe Ajaero, argued that if the state government wanted to arrest anybody at all, Caverton Helicopters and the oil and gas companies should not have been the target.
The union, which did not see where the workers erred to warrant their arrest, threatened to withdraw its service if the harassment and intimidation continues.
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