Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has frowned at the arrest of the pilots who flew oil workers into Rivers State on Tuesday on the order of the Governor, Nelson Wike.

He said the Police Commissioner and the Commander of the Air Force Base in Port Harcourt would have to answer for alleged incompetence.

Senator Hadi Sirika, reacted to the drama in Port Harcourt, saying the federal government would take necessary and constitutional actions on the matter.

Speaking at the Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19, the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, faulted the Air Force officers who drew the attention of the State Government to the flight and the police officers who made the arrest.

READ : Magistrate court in Rivers remands pilots on four count charge over violation of ban on movement

On whether the pilots got approval to fly, the Minister said: “Civil Aviation is on the exclusive list. No other person but the federal government has the authority to legislate that. So the Nigeria Air Force and the Armed Forces are also on the exclusive list. There is no other person but the federal government that has the legal right to legislate that.

“So, the Air Force officer who jumped the Commander in Chief and ignored, who also jumped the Chief of Defence Staff and ignored, who jumped the Chief of Air Staff and ignored to call a governor to come into the property of a federal government and blaming the Nigeria Air Force has exhibited dangerous ignorance and incompetence grossly.

“So, the police that followed the governor in there to make the arrest also exhibited dangerous ignorance from our perspective in civil aviation.

Minister faults Wike on arrest of pilots, airline operators threaten to shut down operations

“We approved the flight and we did in the national interest. All of those flights were to improve the national revenue to which River state is the greatest beneficiary. So, those flights by Caverton, Aero Contractor, Bristow, Arik and a couple more were for national interests and improved national revenue.

He continued: “At a time when oil has gone below $30 and the cost of production is $30, in the wisdom of President Buhari, he thought that this is allowed even in this national pandemic so that the nation will not be crippled and the national revenue will not be lost.

Minister faults Wike on arrest of pilots, airline operators threaten to shut down operations Governor Nyesome Wike.

“It is against this background that we have the authority being it exclusively on the exclusive list that and we have the powers in civil aviation guided by the Civil Aviation Act 2006 approved such flights.

“So, those flights were approved lawfully and legally. So, we will do everything lawful and legal and reasonable to get those pilots back and the operations will continue in the national interest.”

Aircraft Pilots demand apology from Wike, threaten to shut down operations

Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have said that they will stop all scheduled and unscheduled commercial and private flight operations into airports in Rivers State if the government fails to release detained Caverton pilots in 24 hours.

The association demanded apologies from the Rivers state government and called for immediate release of the arrested pilots

The AON said the boycott would include oil and gas offshore flight services

Also, the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) has also threatened to mobilize all pilots both local and international to boycott flying into the state now and post-lockdown following the detention of the pilots.

The groups called for the immediate release of the pilots and an apology from the state government.

The Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, had on Tuesday ordered the arrest of the two pilots for flying into the state despite an existing lockdown order.

The President of NAAPE, Galadima Abednego, stated that while the efforts of the Federal Government in ensuring that Nigerians were well protected from the coronavirus pandemic was commendable, the detention of the pilots on the front line to complement that efforts was embarrassing.

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According to Abednego, the detention is an unnecessary humiliation and harassment for doing a service that is essential and vital to the survival of the nation’s economy.

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Similarly, a body of professionals across the sector, the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative has joined in condemning the action of the government.

According to the group; “We condemn the purported sham prosecution and trial orchestrated by the Rivers State Government at a time when courts have been placed on lockdown by the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“While we acknowledge the deadly nature of the COVID-19 currently ravaging the global community and the need for all hands to be on deck in the fight to contain its spread, we condemning totality the flagrant disregard of the authorization, approvals including exemption granted Caverton helicopters and other operators of essential services by the federal ministry of aviation and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. These reckless actions are capable of leading to a situation of anarchy which the nation cannot afford at these challenging times.

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“We, therefore, demand an immediate and unconditional release from custody of the two Caverton pilots namely: Captains Samuel Ugorji and Samuel Buhari and a withdrawal of the charges preferred against them, without delay.”

An airport source told our correspondent that a Red Cross aircraft landed at PHIA Omagwa on Wednesday but the State Government did not give them access into the state. They left after hours of waiting at the airport.