A day after two of its pilots were arrested, charged to court, and remanded in Port Harcourt prison, Caverton Helicopters Ltd has been ordered to leave Rivers state.
The pilots, according to the police, were arraigned before a magistrate on Tuesday, charged with disobedience to lawful order – order of the governor on the restriction of movement or flight because of coronavirus.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, handed down the quit order to Caverton on Wednesday in a statewide broadcast.
Caverton, a logistics company, 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 an aircraft into the state.
Ten other persons, who were in the Caverton flight, were also charged to court, the police said.
Governor Wike has been insisting that people flying into Rivers must subject themselves to health check to ascertain if they are positive or not to the coronavirus.
“Caverton Helicopters have clearly shown that Rivers lives do not matter to it,” the governor said in the Wednesday broadcast. “It is an enemy of Rivers people and is hereby declared persona non grata in Rivers State.
“With this declaration, Caverton Helicopters can only chose to operate in any part of Rivers State at its own risk as Local Government Chairmen have been directed to close their offices and prevent their operations.”
Mr Wike made some damning allegations against Caverton.
“Their morbid intention is to create panic by pushing up the infection rate and rubbish the robust measures we have since put in place to cut off the spread of the virus and keep our State and our citizens safe and secure from the ravaging pandemic,” he said.
Rivers has only two confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
The state government, apart from barring people from entering or leaving the oil-rich state, has imposed curfew in some parts of the state to halt the spread of the virus.
The Caverton flight was authorised by the federal government. But Mr Wike said such authorisation was not just enough, at a time Rivers state and the nation was fighting a pandemic.
“Caverton Helicopters claimed to have gotten permits from some federal agencies to fly passengers into the State, which never bordered to take the State Government into confidence in issuing such permits in violation of our laws and containment orders.
“While federal agencies reserve the right to issue flight permits to airline operators to fly into Rivers State, we insist that the State Government must equally be informed and taken into confidence in the process.
“This the only way to avoid suspicion, conflicts of interests and unnecessary bickering between the State and Federal Governments in our collective efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the country.”
Caverton’s management, in a statement issued on Tuesday, said the company has not violated any law. It appealed for the intervention of the federal government in the matter.
“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.
“Today, 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,” the company said