LIKE joke, like joke, the two pilots of Caverton Helicopters have continued to be detained no thanks to the controversial order issued to effect their arrest and detention by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
For almost two weeks now, the pilots in the line of carrying out their duty ran into the murky waters of power tussle wrapped up in the cloak of supremacy battle between a state and federal government.
The scene happened to be Rivers State and the man at the centre of the tussle is Governor Wike who did not waste time in wielding his power over what he described as the violation of his order on closure of all borders including the state’s airspace as a way of preventing the spread of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic by the Caverton pilots.
The other dramatis personae in the drama is the federal government through the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika who seemed overwhelmed that it could not act rightly.
With the detention of the pilots and the declaration of Caverton airline as persona non grata by the governor, the country’s aviation sector has since gone haywire with different professional bodies including the airline operators, pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers, flight crew members and the unions letting Governor Wike realise that though he may be in charge of the state, the federal government has the exclusive right to the Port Harcourt airport and the airspace therefore, whatever goes wrong within the airport and the airspace is not the governor’s business.
Supporting their positions with the enabling Civil Aviation Act 2006 which is under the Exclusive Legislative List in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as reviewed in 2011 which vested all powers to legislate on matters relating to and regarding flights and carriage of passengers and goods by air on the federal government of Nigeria only, the professional groups described the decision to arrest and detain the pilots as abuse of power.
Even as the fireworks continue, Governor Wike continues with his muscle flexing without pausing to check under what circumstances the pilots operated into his State.
Agreed, Governor Wike has the right to protect the state, but one fact remains that no state can go far without the support of the federal government. No matter how rich that state might be, it will still need the government at the centre one day.
Despite the display of might by the governor in the midst of the different subtle appeals for him to come down from his temporary lofty perch and think of activities in the state before now and after COVID-19, he chose to further complicate issues by declaring the airline in question as persona non grata. Haba! Is this not too much?
The governor even alleged that his action was borne out of the intelligent report he had that certain people were planning to import COVID-19 carriers to his state to infect his people.
As the number one security man in the state he may be privileged to have some first hand information on some issues, but of what benefit will it be for anyone to import such a deadly virus to infect fellow humans. What are they dragging with each other?
At any rate, the rigid position of governor Wike only points to the fact that there must be a disconnect between the state and the federal somewhere for if not, this matter should have been resolved amicably from the highest level without unjustly subjecting the two pilots and their families to everlasting psychological trauma.
As much as the governor’s action contradicted the civil aviation rules guiding against who has the exclusive right to airports and airspace, the attitude of the federal government and the Minister of Aviation left so much to be desired.
Since the innocent pilots were detained, the minister only attended to the issue once after which nothing has again been heard from them.
Questions on the lips of many include: if there is more to the whole drama; if the poor pilots are victims of unhealthy local politics; or if discussions are going on underground without the knowledge of Nigerians. The bottom line is that the pilots are still being detained.
The need to resolve this conflict becomes pertinent in the sense that it will go a long way in giving a clear picture as to who have the exclusive right to airports and the airspace should a similar issue rears its head in future.
While resolving this drama, there is the need for government to first facilitate the release of these pilots who have been made to suffer for a non existent offense.
Above all, it is important to tackle this drama as it will help in enlightening many governors who do not know where their rights regarding rights to airports and airspace start and end.
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