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Twenty-one workers of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, have been ‘arrested’ and ‘detained’ by the police in Rivers state, South-South Nigeria, for allegedly violating the lockdown order in the state, the Petroleum & Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), has said.

As part of the measures to halt the spread of the new coronavirus in Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike had signed an executive order barring vehicles and flights from entering the oil-rich state.

The workers’ ‘arrest’ is coming a few days after two Caverton Helicopters pilots and their ten passengers were arrested, charged to court, and remanded in Port Harcourt prison for allegedly violating the lockdown order in Rivers State.

The Mobil workers were ‘arrested’ at about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday in Bori, a border town between Rivers and Akwa Ibom State, according to a statement from PENGASSAN.

The oil workers, guarded by the police, were traveling from Akwa Ibom to Rivers to work in an oil facility at Intel, Port Harcourt, when their convoy was intercepted by the commissioner of police and a top army commander in Rivers State, PENGASSAN said.

The PENGASSAN statement is signed by its chairman, Razaq Obe, and the secretary, Kings Udoidua.

The association said the oil workers have not broken any law and that “ExxonMobil Nigeria, like other responsible organizations, has adopted 14 days isolation of all personnel as a prerequisite for offshore travels in order to mitigate COVID-19 risk”.

“The commissioner rebuffed all explanations and forced them to move to Elekaya Stadium, Port Harcourt, where they have been detained, verbally assaulted and starved.

“The original pretext for sending them to the stadium was to test for COVID-19 but there was no such possibility at the location; it is a construction site. They rather served them papers to write statements.

“It is appalling that Rivers State authorities have turned the global effort to tame COVID-19 to a tool of muscle-flexing and petty oppression of oilfield workers.

“We condemn the continued detention of the 21 members of our Union who stake everything to produce the oil the country depends on for survival.

“We call on all stakeholders to prevail on the government of Rivers State to end this most unpleasant drama,” PENGASSAN said in the statement.

The police spokesperson in River State, Nnamdi Omoni, however, told PREMIUM TIMES that the oil workers were not arrested, but that they are being kept in an isolation centre where they are to be tested for coronavirus.

Nigerian economy depends largely on earnings from crude oil export. The development in Rivers State underscores the delicate balance between keeping Africa’s largest economy alive and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Nigeria has 442 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 13 deaths, as of April 15, according to data released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

Rivers State has two confirmed cases of the viral infection for now, while Akwa Ibom state has six.

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