Airlines Operators Threaten to Boycott Rivers over Detention of Pilots

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  • Court remands 10 Caverton Helicopters’ passengers
  • Rivers declares company persona non grata

Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and Chinedu Eze in Lagos

The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has urged the Rivers State Government to release two pilots of Caverton Helicopters that were arrested on Tuesday and taken into custody within 24 hours or face boycott of all schedule and unscheduled commercial and private flight operations, including oil and gas offshore flight services, into Port Harcourt for a period of three months.

A Port Harcourt Chief Magistrates’ Court presided over by Chief Magistrate DD Ihua-Maduenyi has also ordered the remand of 10 passengers who flew into the Air Force Base, Port Harcourt on board the Twin-Otter Caverton Helicopters Tuesday.

This is coming as the state government has declared the company persona non grata in the state for allegedly endangering the lives of the people by its “suspicious operations”.

In a statement issued yesterday by its Chairman, Captain Nogie Meggison, AON condemned the move in the strongest term and considered unlawful in the face of the fact that the airline had secured all necessary approvals from the Ministry of Aviation and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the flight in line with the protocols for exemption of essential flights as issued by the NCAA.

The AON also frowned at what it described as crude action because the pilots were only doing their lawful duties “which was also in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s exemption order of the oil and gas sector during the shutdown exercise.”

“Aviation is under the exclusivity list of the federal government and the Port Harcourt NAF Base is a federal government entity outside the jurisdiction of the Rivers State Government.

“The Airline Operators of Nigeria hereby demands the immediate and unconditional release of the two pilots with all purported charges dropped so that they can go back to their families for the Easter holidays and return to their jobs.

“However, should the Rivers State government fail to release the pilots within 24 hours, airlines in the country will be forced to boycott all schedule and unscheduled commercial and private flight operations, including oil and gas offshore flight services, into Port Harcourt for a period of three months.

“We therefore hope our appeal for the immediate release of the pilots within 24 hours will be heeded by Rivers state government otherwise airlines in the country will have no other option than to completely boycott all operations into Port Harcourt,” said the statement.

Meanwhile, in a state broadcast last night, the state governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, also directed local government council chairmen to close the offices of the company 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.

“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.

“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.”

The 10 were charged for flying Port Harcourt illegally by disobeying Wike’s Executive Order on movement into and out of the state.

The defendants who pleaded not guilty to a four-count charge preferred against them by the state government, were ordered to be remanded at any government facility to enable medical personnel from the state carry out test to determine their COVID-19 status.

The prosecution team was led by the Commissioner for Justice, Rivers State, Prof. Z. Adangor.

The 10 passengers who were arraigned are: Nwogu Chibuna, Peter Michael, Ajagba Iheanyi, Ekperewechi Oguguo, Nsikan Pius and Abanobi Chinonso.

Others are : Udoh Hagan, Okachukwu Chuks, Goddy Chucku and Omerurike Chijioke.