… says Caverton Helicopters are now “persona non grata’’ in Rivers State
Following a face-off between the Federal Government and the Rivers State Government over the arrest and detention of Caverton Helicopters’ pilots in Port Harcourt, Gov. Nyesom Wike has shut the company’s offices in the state.
In a fit of temper, the governor has also declared Caverton Helicopters “Persona Non Grata’’ in the state, branding them “an enemy of Rivers people’’ for allegedly violating the lockdown order.
“By its actions, Caverton Helicopters have clearly shown that Rivers lives do not matter to it. It is an enemy of Rivers people and is hereby declared persona non grata in Rivers State,’’ the governor declared.
On March 19, Wike had signed an “Executive Order’’ suspending flights to Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Air Force Base and Bonny Airstrip beginning from Thursday, March 26.
Persecondnews recalls that the Federal Government had reacted to the arrest and arraignment of the two pilots over alleged lockdown violation in Rivers State, saying they were duly authorized to fly into Port Harcourt “in national interest’’.
The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, said on Wednesday that the federal government gave the approval for them to fly “in national interest and improved national revenue of the country of which Rivers State is the greatest beneficiary’’.
The federal government had threatened to punish both the Police Commissioner and the Air Force Base Commander for their roles in facilitating the arrests of the pilots by the governor at the airport, a federal facility and restricted area.
Sirika described as dangerous exhibition of ignorance and lack of competence the role of the State Police Commissioner, Mr Mustapha Dandaura, and the Commander of the Air Force Base in Port Harcourt in the arrest of the pilots.
“They will have to answer for their actions,’’ he said, promising that all necessary and constitutional actions on the matter would be taken.
But in a swift reaction, Wike in state broadcast on Wednesday directed Local Government Council Chairmen to close the offices of Caverton Helicopters across the state.
He said: “We appreciate the need to protect business interests and operations in the State and we will do whatever that is required to ensure that no business is unduly affected by the measures we have taken to combat the Coronavirus.
“However, we shall not welcome businesses or companies that value their business activities or profit more than or in clear disregard of the lives and health of our people.
“With this declaration, Caverton Helicopters can only choose 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.”
Wike said that the highly insensitive and provocative actions of Caverton Helicopters took place in the midst of “credible intelligence reports about plans by enemies of the state to traffic carriers of the dreaded Coronavirus into the state’’.
According to him, 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.
For the violation, Wike said: “As expected, and required by our laws, the crew and the passengers on board that ill-fated helicopter were promptly arrested by the law enforcement personnel and are being prosecuted before our courts in line with our COVID 19 Declarations and Containment Orders.
“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.”
Describing COVID-19 in the state as a matter of life and death, the governor also said the administration would not succumb to any blackmail from any person, institution or authority in our determination to protect the citizens and the state from the spread of the deadly virus.
“Since we triggered the law on Caverton Helicopters, we have seen and read all sorts of hilarious and frivolous comments, particularly on social media, questioning the propriety of our actions against the carrier and its passengers.
“At this time and under the present situation, nothing; Irepeat; nothing, is more important to us than to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of our citizens no matter the cost, and we shall spare no efforts to achieve this singular most fundamental objective of our Government.”
Wike stressed: “We have sworn to protect the lives and advance the wellbeing our people, and nothing can stop us from taking all necessary steps to prevent or stop any person, action or activities that would endanger the lives of our citizens.”