ON Sunday, May 17, 2020 the Minister of Aviation, Alhaji Hadi Sirika, tweeted information that made the headlines both on the traditional and social media platforms.
According to him, a British-registered airline, Flair Aviation, flouted the terms of its mandate to fly into Nigeria. It was permitted to conduct humanitarian operations but “regrettably, we caught them conducting commercial flights”, tweeted Sirika.
The aircraft was immediately impounded and its crew taken in for interrogation. Sirika vowed “maximum penalty” for these foreigners for choosing the “wrong time to try our resolve”.
This is a déjà vu, with the roles somewhat reversed. It will be recalled that Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State had on April 8, 2020 personally led security agents to arrest the pilots and crew of Caverton Helicopters for ignoring his shutdown of air, land and sea borders into Rivers State to curtail the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Caverton Helicopters had flown into the Port Harcourt International Airport under Minister Sirika’s permission on the pretext that the passengers are oil workers whose continued operation even under the lockdown is deemed an essential service in the nation’s economic interest.
Wike had also vowed maximum measures to show the state was serious in its resolve to protect the lives of its residents.
If Caverton Helicopters could be pardoned because it operated with Federal authorisation, there was absolutely no ground for Flair Aviation to breach our laws other than barefaced impunity and callous disregard for our sovereignty.
We stand firmly with any legitimate measure that the Federal Government adopts to send the right signals out there that we have zero tolerance to such foolhardy adventures by our citizens and foreigners alike.
One thing this incident has brought to the fore is that human beings all over the world would take the law into their hands once they believe they can get away with it.
Unfortunately for Flair Aviation, Nigeria is dead serious about strictly sifting international flights into the country. Our index case and several other subsequent cases were imported into the country through international flights.
Experts have maintained that if we had strictly kept international travellers at bay early enough through the closure of all our borders we would not be where we are today – on the threshold of an exponential coronavirus explosion.
We the commend aviation sector for its vigilance and hope it will not relent. How we wish that the same zero-tolerance were applied at our land, sea as well as interstate boundaries through which rapid community spread is taking place.
If the same resolve, vigilance and patriotism had been applied we would not be hearing about the truckloads of strange people being ferried and forced through state boundary checkpoints to the Southern parts of the country.