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The federal government on Wednesday said some pilots who were recently arrested in Port Harcourt for allegedly violating the lockdown order imposed by the Rivers State government, had permission to fly.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the pilots working with Caverton Helicopters Ltd, were arrested after they flew a helicopter into the oil-rich state in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown.

The state government had earlier barred vehicles and flights from entering as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

After their arrest, the pilots were subsequently arraigned at a magistrate court and remanded in prison until May.

Caverton, a logistics company, provides support services for oil and gas companies in Nigeria, had kicked against the action, saying aviation authorities granted it the permission to fly into Rivers.

On Wednesday evening, Mr Wike ordered Caverton to leave the state.

Nigeria currently has 254 cases of the virus of which Rivers State accounts for two of these.

Forty-four people have also been discharged having tested negative to the virus and six deaths recorded.

Permission to fly

The minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the pilots had the permission of the federal government to fly.

Speaking at the Presidential Taskforce briefing on Covid-19 in Abuja on Wednesday, he said civil aviation was on the exclusive list as was the Nigerian Airforce and Armed Forces.

He said besides the federal government “no other person had the legal rights to legislate on civil aviation”.

According to him, the exemption was part of strategies put in place by the federal government to rake in some revenue at this time of global oil price crisis, “of which the Rivers State was a beneficiary.”

“Civil aviation is on exclusive list item number three there. So no other person but the federal government has authority to legislated upon.

“The air force officer who jumped the Commander in Chief (President) also jumped the chief of defense staff, also jumped the chief of air staff and ignored him, 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.

“The police that followed the governor to go in there exhibited dangerous ignorance from our perspective in civil aviation,” he said.

He also sad the permission was granted to the pilots “as a matter of national interest.”

”Whether we have approval for the flight, yes we did and we did in national interest. All of this flights are for the purposes of improving the national revenue to which Rivers State is the greatest beneficiary.

“Those flights by Caverton, Aero Contractor, Arik, Bristo 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 the 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 to approve such flights,” Mr Sirika said.

He said the federal government “would do every thing legally possible to secure the release of the pilots.”

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

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