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COVID-19 lockdown: Arrest of helicopter pilots, Air Force Commander, Police Commissioner in trouble

The Federal Government says that the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mustapha Dandaura, and Commander, Nigeria Air Force Base, Port Harcourt may face sanctions in the role they played in the arrest of two Caverton Helicopters Pilots for the Coronavirus lockdown violation in Rivers State.

Saying that they “exhibited dangerous ignorance and incompetence grossly,” Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said that the pilots flight trip was duly authorized and that it was also in national interest.

Stating that they would have to answer for their actions, Sirika said while responding to a question in Abuja that the federal government gave the approval in national interest and improved national revenue of which Rivers State is the greatest beneficiary. 

Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesome Wike, had in an Executive Order signed on March 19 suspended flights to the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Air Force Base and Bonny Airstrip, beginning Thursday, March 26.

Assuring that all necessary and constitutional actions on the matter would be taken, Sirika said: “On whether we gave the arrested pilots approval to fly, civil aviation is on exclusive list item number three there. So, no other person but the federal government has authority to legislate upon it. So, also is the Nigerian Air Force, Armed Forces are also on exclusive list. There is no other person that has the legal rights to legislate upon it.

So, the Air Force officer who jumped the Commander-in-Chief and ignored, 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 the Federal Government of Nigeria to make an arrest, exhibited dangerous ignorance and incompetence grossly.

“So, the Police that followed the Governor to go in there exhibited dangerous ignorance from our perspective in civil aviation. Whether we gave approval for the flight? Yes, we did and we did in national interest. All of these flights are for the purposes of improving the national revenue to which Rivers State is the greatest beneficiary. 

“So those flights by Caverton, Aero Contractor, Arik, Bristo and … were for national interest and improved national revenue.  At a time, where oil has gone below $30 per barrel and the cost of production is $30, in the wisdom of President Muhammadu Buhari, he thought that this be allowed so that the nation will not be crippled and national revenue will not be lost. 

“It was against this background that we have the authority and being exclusively on the exclusive list and we have the powers in civil aviation, guided by the Civil Aviation act 2016 approved such flights. Those flights were approved lawfully, legally and correct. So, yes, we will do everything lawful and legal and reasonable to get those pilots back and operations will continue in national interest.”

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