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Pilots sent to prison for ‘violating’ coronavirus lockdown order

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A Port Harcourt Chief Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday remanded two pilots with Caverton Helicopters, Samuel Ugorji and Samuel Buhari, in a correctional centre for allegedly disobeying the Executive Order of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.

The order had suspended flights into the state.

The suspension of flights into the Port Harcourt International Airport, Air Force Base and other landing spaces in the state was aimed at checking the spread of coronavirus in the state.

Chief Magistrate D. D. Ihua-Maduenyi remanded the pilots in the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre till May 19, 2020, when their trial will commence.

Ihua-Maduenyi also ordered that the pilots be subjected to COVID-19 test to ascertain their status.

The pilots had earlier been arrested by the police for flouting the state government’s directive by flying unknown passengers into the Air Force Base.

The prosecution counsel and the officer-in-charge, Legal, Rivers State Police Command, Gladys Amadi, told the court that the actions of the pilots were capable of putting the entire residents of the state in danger of contracting coronavirus.

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Amadi pleaded with the court to remand them in a correctional centre to enable the police conclude their investigation, adding that allowing the accused persons to freely roam the streets would endanger many lives in the state.

According to her, remanding the pilots will also stop them from further violating the Executive Order.

However, Caverton Helicopters described the arrest and remand of its pilots as unjust.

The airline stated that at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, it received a letter from its client stating that it had been given approval and exemption to fly and continue operations.

“We, along with three other companies, also received approval from the Minister of Aviation to fly for only essential services, mainly in the oil and gas industry. Lastly, we got another approval from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to fly for this same oil and gas sector. We have been flying along these guidelines for the past seven days,” it stated.

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According to the airline, the pilots were arrested while waiting for the governor, who was supposed to address operators in Port Harcourt.

Caverton said the pilots were charged and remanded despite pleas by the company’s lawyers, who showed the relevant documents from the Federal Government.

It added that the pilots did not violate any law and appealed to the Federal Government to ask the Rivers State Government to release them.

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