NYESOM WIKE, Governor of Nigeria’s Rivers State outburst over Caverton Helicopters “illegal flight” operation into the state, in violation of the government’s Executive Order, banning flight from entering the state during Covid-19 lockdown in the state, to present the spread of coronavirus, seemed unnecessary, at this time. Optimal leadership skill and experience would have prevailed.
Two pilots, along with 10 passengers, flew into Rivers State, unannounced, on Monday. They were, promptly, arrested and charged to court by the state government for violating the governor’s executive order banning flight operations into the state to control the spread of coronavirus in the state. Tuesday, they were remanded in Port Harcourt prisons, on the order of a Magistrate Court, till May, 2020.
Next, Caverton Helicopters facilities in Port Harcourt, were sealed-off, within 24 hours, after Governor Wike gave the company order to quit its operations from the state. Caverton, a logistic company, provides services for oil and gas companies in Nigeria. The company protested the action, and explained that Nigerian aviation authority granted Caverton flight permit for the Rivers state operation.
Wike said he had no knowledge of the mission of Caverton Helicopters in the State, despite executive order banning flight operations into the state, at the critical period when coronavirus was taking death tolls in the world, and its ravaging effects, seriously, manifesting in the country. Two positive cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Rivers State. As such, Caverton Helicopters mission, according to Governor Wike, was suspect.
Wike slammed punitive sanctions against the company. He seemed right. It was thoughtless, whatever the mission of Caverton Helicopters to Rivers State, at that time, to keep the Chief Executive of the state out of the picture of the mission. Many States in Nigeria, have announced similar measures backed by legislations, including the federal government, prohibiting air, sea and land movements. Thought with some exemptions.
However, the pilots and passengers, explained to Governor Wike that Nigerian aviation authorities granted permission for the flight operation into Rivers State. Mindful Governor Wike, at this point, needed cautious, to attend to this sensitive issue. Consulting the presidency, the pay master of the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, to confirm the operation, was an open option. The heated momentum to tackle Covid-19, head-on in the country, likely, overtook this serene approach.
AVIATION Authority, under the charge of Hadi Sirika, Minister of Aviation, in response to Governor Wike’s actions, ignited controversy. Responding to questions from journalists, Wednesday, during the daily media briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19, he said the pilots had the permission of the federal government to fly into Rivers State on that mission. Before he provided that simple answer, he prevaricated.
The journalist’s question was simple. Did the pilots obtain approval to fly into Rivers State? Rather than reacting constructively to the question, and douse already heated situation, Sirika resorted to downright ignoble rigmarole. For an appointee minister of government, to talked down on an elected Governor of a State, before providing answer to such sensitive issue, was sheer arrogance.
Sirika’s unconstructive response was that civil aviation was on the exclusive list as was the Nigerian Airforce and Armed Forces. Besides the federal government, he said, “no other person had the legal rights to legislate on civil aviation”. There was no such issue in contention. He further said the exemption of certain flight operations was part of strategies of federal government to rake in some revenue at this time of global oil price crisis “of which the Rivers State was a beneficiary.” This does not, also, answer the question whether the pilots obtained approval to fly into Rivers State.
Sirika further added: “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 Defence 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.” This, still does not answer the journalist’s question.
Finally, Sirika answered the journalist’s question. ”Whether we have approval for the flight, yes we did and we did in national interest. All of these 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. 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,” Sirika said, disingenuously.
LEGAL Opinion, seemed to back Governor Wike’s action. Sam Amadi, university law teacher, and former Chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, Facebook post, stated that State Governors in Nigeria are “chief executives”, and are not subject to ministerial direction, even when the Minister is acting as aide of the President.
“Federalism means that the central government cannot operate to undermine the effectiveness of state power and state government can’t nullify the exercise of federal power once each is acting within its statutory and constitutional powers. Rivers State is right on this fight with the federal government…. You cannot override a governor’s order in respect of a state where he is Chief Executive without formal procedures and in consultation with the Governor.
“Wike says he was not notified about the special dispensation granted Caverton Helicopters. Wike has first and direct responsibility to protect Rivers residents from the pandemic. He has to be taken along any decision that can impact on the health of the people at this time.
“It is a dangerous display of hubris or oversight to keep him in the dark especially as he has publicly prohibited movement into and out of Rivers like some other states and in line with federal government directives. Wike does not control the airport but he can determine what happens in his state as long as he keeps to the constitution and the law. That’s why he is the Chief Executive of the State.
“No Minister has such power to negate the exercise of power by an appeal to presidential approval. Ministers must not be intoxicated by the seeming power and influence of the presidency that they forget that Governors are ‘sovereign’ in their state within the concept of sovereignty in modern constitutional democracy with federal structure,” Sam Amadi said.
President Buhari’s ministers, presidential advisers, and other aids to the president, as well as, chieftains of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, speak on national issues with the flamboyance of dictators. This has no place in democracy. In these gambits, are distinguished professionals in Buhari’s government.
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, the government’s number one image maker, hardly, completes a sentence, on public and national issues, each time he is with journalists, without threats. This has become a partern. Femi Adesina, the president’s chief public relations officer, too often, laden his speeches and published write-ups, with unguarded utterances and inuendoes, when his boss is critised. Certainly, not the way to hold public office.