The governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, said he acted against the advice of security agencies in the state by insisting on the arrest of some ExxonMobil workers who came into Rivers through Akwa Ibom State.
Mr Wike had signed an executive order which bars vehicles and flights from entering Rivers because of the new coronavirus.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the oil workers were arrested on Thursday in a border town between Rivers and Akwa Ibom by the commissioner of police in Rivers State, accompanied by a military commander.
The workers who drove in a convoy, with police protection, were on their way to work in an oil facility in Intel, Port Harcourt.
The oil workers association in Nigeria, PENGASSAN said the arrested workers are 21. But Mr Wike while briefing the press on Friday in Port Harcourt said they are 22.
“Even though security agencies advised that they be allowed to go back to Akwa Ibom State, I insisted that the law must take its course,” Mr Wike said. “This is because nobody is above the law.”
Mr Wike said the state government could not ascertain the health status of the arrested Mobil employees.
“As a responsive government, we have quarantined them in line with the relevant health protocols and they will be charged to court.”
The arrest of the Mobil workers comes a few days after two Caverton Helicopters pilots and their ten passengers were arrested, charged to court, and remanded in Port Harcourt prison for allegedly violating the lockdown order in Rivers State.
“Some people want the escalation of the virus in Rivers State. People were paid to canvass a negative narrative on Caverton pilots.
“We are doing what we can within available resources to fight coronavirus. You can fly, but as you fly and land, don’t enter our territory.
“We will fight this matter legally. ExxonMobil does not operate in Rivers State. That they have a point at the Onne seaport does not mean that they operate in Rivers State.
“People in Abuja are not happy. They want Rivers State to be infected. They want to kill Rivers people and I will not allow it. I was elected to protect Rivers people. Rivers State is not a pariah State.
“People selling Akara are being charged to court in Lagos. But they want us to allow oil companies to flout the law. I am a boy to Rivers people, not to anybody outside Rivers State,” the governor said.
In contrast with Governor Wike’s position, the police in River state had earlier told PREMIUM TIMES that the workers have not been arrested.
“They were not arrested,” the police spokesperson in the state, Nnamdi Omoni, said on Friday.
“The CP (the commissioner of police) and other service commanders went on an inspection tour of all the border points, when we got to the Ogoni axis we saw these people (the Mobil workers), they wanted to come in. They showed us a letter but that was not the issue; the issue was that they were not screened. The people were taken from that border post to the screening centre at the Elekaya Stadium.
“They are still being screened (for coronavirus). Nobody arrested them.”
PENGASSAN said the oil workers did not violate any law and should, therefore, be released.
“It is appalling that Rivers State authorities have turned the global effort to tame COVID-19 to a tool of muscle-flexing and petty oppression of oilfield workers,” the association said.
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