Caverton Helicopters Kicks as Court Remands Two Pilots in Rivers Prison

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Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and Chinedu Eze in Lagos

Caverton Helicopters has condemned what it described as the unjust detention of its pilots by the government of Rivers state.

A Port Harcourt Chief Magistrate Court yesterday remanded two pilots of Caverton Helicopters, Mr. Samuel Ugorji and Mr. Samuel Buhari in prison custody for allegedly disobeying the Executive Order issued by the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike aimed at checking the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

But in a statement signed by the company, it explained that it received approval from the Minister of Aviation to operate essential services during the lockdown.

“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 Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to fly for this same oil and gas sector. We have been flying along 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 May 19,” Caverton explained in the statement.

The company appealed 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 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.