The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has explained why he ordered the arrest of two pilots in the state.
Two pilots were arrested by the police on Tuesday at the Nigerian Air Force base in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on the orders of Mr Wike.
The two men, a pilot and a co-pilot, work with Caverton, a logistics company which provides support services for oil and gas companies in Nigeria, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Total, Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron.
Mr Wike, who has barred vehicles and flights from entering Rivers as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus, said the pilots “illegally” flew a helicopter belonging to Caverton into the state.
“Nobody says that you can’t go to any state but now we are in a war situation,” a Government House statement quoted the governor as saying, while reacting to the development.
The statement signed by Mr Wike’s spokesperson, Simeon Nwakaudu, said the governor made the remark at the police headquarters in Port Harcourt when he met with the Commissioner of Police in Rivers, Mustapha Dandaura, over the arrest of the pilots.
“This COVID-19 is even worse than a conventional war. We want to know who are those people you brought in, so that we have to trace them to know their identity and status.
“Luckily we have seen the pilot and the co-pilot. They will assist the police in identifying them,” Mr Wike said.
Mr Wike said he does not have the right to close the airport in Rivers but that he has the right to prevent people from entering the state.
He said the state government did not know the health status of the pilots and those who were aboard the flight, if they were positive or negative of the coronavirus.
He said his administration is duty-bound to protect the lives of Rivers people.
“The company wrote to us about bringing people which I forwarded to Commissioner of Police to perform security checks and the health officials to perform their duties before allowing them to come on. That is for those performing essential duties. But they decided to violate the regulations,” the governor said.
The governor said he is willing to wave his immunity to testify in court as a witness against the pilots.
The police commissioner, Mr Dandaura, according to the Government House statement, said the police was surprised to “received intelligence report” about the Caverton aircraft landing in Port Harcourt after Governor Wike “had given an order that on no account should any aircraft land on Rivers State without clearance”.
Mr Dandaura said, “Maybe they are coming here to sabotage the activities of the state and the security agencies that are putting efforts on ground to ensure that Rivers State enjoy peaceful atmosphere throughout this pandemic period.”
Caverton is yet to issue a statement on the incident. An official of the company told PREMIUM TIMES, Tuesday night, that they needed some time before they could speak on it.
A document seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed that the Caverton flight, alongside other flights by Bristow Helicopters, Aero-Contractors, and Arik Airlines, was approved by the Minister of Aviation.
Governor Wike in a statewide broadcast on Sunday said the federal government was putting pressure on him to allow expatriates fly into Rivers State to drill oil.
“Every day, we are inundated with letters from the Federal Government to allow oil companies to fly in expatriates to drill oil. Then we ask, what is the status of those coming from Lagos? Nobody has told us their status as regards coronavirus.
“If they come to Rivers without us knowing their status, what will be the implication assuming they have the virus?” said the governor who has accused the federal government of “politicising” its support to states in the fight against the pandemic.
The governor had questioned why the federal government should give N10 billion grant to Lagos State to fight the pandemic, without giving any financial support to Rivers which he said “produces a greater percentage of the nation’s wealth”.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on Monday announced a new case of coronavirus in Rivers bringing the number of confirmed cases of infection in the state to two.