Caverton Helicopters yesterday appealed to the federal government to prevail on the Governor of River State, Mr Nyesom Wike to release its pilots who have been remanded at the Port Harcourt prison.
The governor accused the pilots of flying expatriates into River State without involving the state government in the testing and approval of the coronavirus status of the expatriates.
In a statement yesterday night by Caverton management, the company said:
“ At the start of the COVID -19 lockdown, we received a letter from our client stating that they have been given approval/ exemption to fly and continue operations. We (Caverton along with three other companies) also received approval from the Minister of Aviation to fly only essential services, mainly in the Oil and Gas industry”. “ Lastly, we got another approval from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to fly for this same oil and gas sector. We have been flying along with these guidelines for the past seven days”.
We were informed that the Governor of Rivers State, Mr Nyesom Wike was coming to address the operators in Port Harcourt and our people waited. But on arriving, the governor directed two of our pilots to be taken to CID where they were told to write statements”.
“Despite all pleas by our lawyers who showed all the relevant documents, they were taken to the magistrate court and charged. At the court, our lawyers also presented all the documentations approving us to fly by the federal government but the case was closed and the pilots have been remanded in Port Harcourt prison till the 19th May.”
“We appeal to the federal government to urge the Rivers State government to release our pilots who violated no law and are being unduly punished for reasons we still do not understand,” the statement said.
The pilots were charged on a four-count charge of conspiracy to commit misdemeanour to wit: disobedience to lawful order, intentionally disobeying the lawful order issued by the Governor of Rivers State as contained in paragraph 8 of the Executive Order RVSG -01 2020 made pursuant to Sections 2, 4, and 8 of Quarantine Act Cap. Q2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and Regulation 11 of the Quarantine (Coronavirus (COVID-19 ) and other infectious diseases) regulations , 2020, by flying the Twin-Otter Caverton Helicopters into Air Force Base, Port Harcourt and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 5 of the Quarantine Act Cap Q2 LFN , 2004.
They were also accused of conducting themselves in a manner likely to cause a breach of peace by flying and discharging passengers, and for intentionally disobeying the lawful order issued by the Governor of Rivers State on restriction of movement and flights within the state contrary to paragraph 8 of the Executive Order RVSG -01 2020.
The Court presided over by Chief Magistrate DD Ihua-Maduenyi remanded the two pilots at the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre till May 19 when their trial would commence.
Ihua-Maduenyi also ruled that COVID-19 tests be carried out on the two pilots to ascertain their status.
The pilots, who were arrested by the Rivers State Police Command, were arraigned by the State Police Command via charge number: PMC/532C/2020.
The Prosecution Counsel and Officer-in-charge, Legal of the Rivers State Police Command, Superintendent of Police, Gladys Amadi, told the court that the acts of the two pilots were capable of putting the entire state in danger of contracting the virus.
The state governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, had earlier declared that he is willing to set aside his immunity to testify against persons who violate the state’s border closure regulations aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.
Wike said the protection of Rivers people is an important assignment that must be executed with the seriousness it deserves.