Governor Nyesom Wike took his fight against Caverton Helicopters for allegedly embarking on illegal flights into Port Harcourt in defiance of lockdown imposed on Rivers over the COVID-19 pandemic many notches higher on Wednesday evening as he ordered the aviation company to leave the State.
The Governor had on Tuesday ordered the arrest and prosecution of two pilots of the company for allegedly for flying into Rivers State in spite of closure of the airspace as part of the measures to curb COVID-19.
The Pilots were arraigned before a Magistrate Court in Port which ordered their remand till 19 April.
Also, the 10 passengers flown into Rivers by the pilots were arrested and arraigned in court on Wednesday morning.
Just like the pilots, the court ordered the remand of the passengers.
On Wednesday evening, Governor Wike, in a state-wide broadcast declared the aviation company a persona- non- grata, for according to him, “endangering the lives of Rivers people by its suspicious operations.”
The Governor therefore directed local government council chairmen to close the offices of Carveton 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.
“By its actions Calverton 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 Calverton Helicopters can only chose 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.”
Governor 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.
He said: “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.
” 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.
“Calverton 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.”
Governor Wike added: “Let me reiterate that for us, COVID 19 in Rivers State is a matter of life and death, and we will never succumb to any blackmail from any person, institution or authority in our determination to protect our citizens and our State from the spread of this deadly virus.
“Since we triggered the law on Calverton 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.”
The Rivers State Governor said that the action of Calverton Helicopters when they conveyed
passengers of doubtful Coronavirus status into the State was in flagrant violation of the State Government’s total restriction on flights into Port Harcourt.
“We have sworn to protect the lives and advance the well-being 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,” he said.