Why Wike declared Caverton Helicopters persona non grata in Rivers, shut its offices

For flouting its COVID-19 lockdown order banning movements and flights from entering Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike has declared Caverton Helicopters persona non grata in the state.

Wike in a state broadcast on Wednesday also directed local government chairmen to shut the offices of the airline in the state.

Two week ago, the governor had announced the closure of all land and sea borders in the state and also said it will not allow air passengers into the state as part of measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. Rivers presently has two confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"While we may not have the right to stop flights from entering Port Harcourt, we cannot allow anybody coming from the airport to enter our State. We are confident that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other federal agencies will cooperate with us," he said in a statement via his Twitter handle on Wednesday March 25, 2020.

Two Caverton Helicopters pilots, who flew passengers to the Air Force Base in Port Harcourt on Tuesday, were arrested, arraigned before a Magistrate Court and have been remanded in prison till May 19, 2020 for the commencement of trial.

Caverton Helicopters pilots – Samuel Ugorji and Samuel Buhari

Wike said he took action against the airline following "credible intelligence reports about plans by enemies of the state to traffic carriers of coronavirus into the State."

He said: "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."

Meanwhile, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), in a statement by its chairman, Captain Nogie Meggisson, has threatened to stop all flights operations to Rivers State for three months if the remanded pilots – Samuel Ugorji and Samuel Buhari – are not released within the next 24 hours.

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