Wike: ATC, pilots plan to stop flights in and out of Rivers over detained pilots

The Coalition of Air Traffic Controllers and Pilots in the country is ready to stop all civil flight operations into and originating from Rivers State if the state Governor Nyesom Wike refuses to release the two pilots in his custody.

The Coalition which comprise Pilots, air traffic controllers and aircraft maintenance engineers in a statement, states that the stoppage of operations will be at short notice and for up to three months if the pilots are not released and tendered an unreserved apology for making them targets.

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The statement signed by the Presidents, Nigeria Air Traffic Controllers Association, NATCA, Yomi Agoro National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, Abednego Galadima and Flight Crew Association of Nigeria, FCAN, Captain Robert Roland  notes that the action of the Rivers State Governor in the arrest and subsequent detention is in blatant violation of the individual rights, usurpation of powers and wrongful exercise of enabling legal statues.

According to the statement, the state government has no power to regulate any state aviation or related matter therein according to the enabling Civil Aviation Act 2006 which is under the exclusive Legislative list in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria1999 as reviewed in 2011.

They note that the Constitution vests all power to legislate on matters relating to and  regarding flights and carriage of passengers and goods by air on the Federal government of Nigeria only.

“What is even more worrisome is that these pilots embarked on a flight under the approval of the relevant agency of government saddled with such responsibilities, only to be arrested without any reasonable or cogent reason in subsisting law and summarily sent to detention after a court appearance and sadly remanded in Port Harcourt prison till 19th May.”

The statement by the coalition urges the governor to resolve this matter expeditiously to encourage doing business in the State, not to discourage pilots who are in this period acting incapacity of the Federal government to keep the economy running.

“To maintain Rivers’ people’s confidence in flight knowing that pilots operate on a high level of respect to instructions, limitations and regulations and will not knowingly sabotage any existing government policies or protocols, to not embarrass the people and government of Rivers state, and the Federal government upon whose policies the pilots, engineers and air traffic controllers operate.”

“Apart from being concerned about the flagrant misuse of executive power as exhibited by the Government of Rivers State without recourse to the subsisting legislation under which the arrested pilots undertake their professional assignments, we are also gravely concerned about the welfare of these pilots and their dependants back home who, no doubt must have been in intense psychological stress.

The pilots and Air traffic controllers appeal to the relevant Government authorities as a matter of urgency intervene and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of the two pilots who they believe have been subjected to an unwarranted punishment does not know the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“As professionals who are responsible for providing essential services in line with government directives and approvals granted by the appropriate authorities under the Nigerian constitution, these professionals should not be subjected to this unwarranted harassment. We, therefore, condemn in strong terms such blatant disregard to due process and executive recklessness on the part of those who are alleged to have executed these arrest.”

“We believe that there are appropriate channels and procedures that should have been adopted in a civil and legal manner to ensure that whoever that is alleged to have contravened any laws could be sanctioned and brought to book.”

In the same vein, a statement jointly issued by the NAAPE, National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), have said it will mobilise the aviation workforce in Nigeria against the Rivers State government if it fails to release the pilots from incarceration.

The statement jointly signed by Ochème Aba, General Secretary, NUATE; Umoh Ofonime, Deputy General Secretary, NAAPE; Frances Akinjole, Deputy General Secretary, ATSSSAN  and Abdul Razak Saidu, Secretary General, ANAPS said, “We are completely taken aback and miffed by the unwarranted and unlawful arrest and remand of two Nigerian pilots and entire passengers of a helicopter operated into the Nigerian Airforce Base in Port-Harcourt.

“It beats our imagination how Governor Wike, a lawyer, would so flagrantly discountenance the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which vests legislation and regulation of aviation matters exclusively on Federal Government, and how he could so vexatiously assume the power to invade the military base, accost aviation personnel who were on lawful national assignment and purportedly prosecute and remand innocent citizens and legal foreign workers, contrary to everything reasonable and lawful, and in such a bizarre manner.

The associations wonder why the governor thinks his laws are superior to international laws on civil aviation, adding that beyond the issue of legality, it is altruistic that any restrictions on movements due to emergency situations anywhere in the world normally precludes essential services providers, as the current situation of coronavirus shows worldwide.

“We are absolutely convinced that Governor Wike’s actions in this matter are clearly inexcusable. The actions point to a personal unwholesome agenda; ventilation of anger against undeclared adversaries.

“In the light of the above, our unions hereby demand the immediate and unconditional release from the incarceration of the pilots and oil and gas workers who are presently under unlawful remand by the Rivers State Government. We in like vain demand an unqualified public apology to the personnel – pilots and passengers- and the companies involved – Caverton Helicopters and Shell Petroleum, as well as adequate recompense for the same persons and companies for personal damages and losses in revenue. Failure to meet these demands will incur the wrath of our unions and we shall have no choice than to mobilise the entire aviation community against Governor Wike and Rivers State”

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