The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), representing indigenous carriers, has given the Rivers State Government 24 hours to release the two detained pilots of Caverton Helicopters that were recently arrested for allegedly flouting the COVID-19 restriction order in the state.
Chairman of AON, Capt. Nogie Megisson, said the operators condemned the government’s action in the strongest term and considered it very 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 stressed that the action of the Rivers State Government is “crude” because the pilots were only doing their lawful duties.
It said this was also in line with President Muhammed Buhari’s Exemption Order of the Oil and Gas sector during the shutdown exercise.
The operators reminded the Rivers State Government that aviation is under the Exclusive 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 (3) months.
“We therefore hope our appeal for the immediate release of the pilots withing 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,” Meggison said.
A Port Harcourt Chief Magistrates’ Court presided over by Chief Magistrate D. D. Ihua-Maduenyi Esq had on Tuesday remanded two pilots of Caverton.
Helicopters, Samuel Ugorji and Samuel Buhari in prison custody, for allegedly disobeying the Executive Order issued by the Rivers State Governor aimed at checking the spread of coronavirus in the state.
The Court remanded the two pilots at the Port Harcourt Custodial Centre till May 19, 2020 when their trial will commence.
Chief Magistrate Ihua-Maduenyi 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 Police via charge number:PMC/532C/2020.
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 coronavirus. She urged the court to remand them in prison custody to enable the police conclude its investigation.
The Federal Government on Wednesday said that Caverton Helicopters was granted the flight permit to fly into Port Harcourt, Rivers State as it is the exclusive right of the Federal Government to do so in such circumstance.