The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has demanded for the release of of its members and staff of Exxon Mobil arrested by the Rivers State government for flouting its Covid-19 lockdown order on Thursday.
In a letter signed by the association’s president, Ndukaku Ohaeri and its general-secretary, Lumumba Okagbawa and copied to REPORT AFRIQUE, the body said it was embarrassed by the continued intimidation of its members by the Rivers State government.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Federal and State Governments lists detailing the categories of persons exempted from the total lockdown directives include senior staff in oil and gas industry which PENGASSAN represents.
“We are therefore miffed that operatives of Government Security Agencies who are vested with the responsibilities to enforce laws should turn around to intimidate and harass our members who are on legitimate and patriotic duties as essential workers. Only patriotic Nigerians with national interest at heart would venture out of their comfort zones during this period of global pandemic and national emergency.
“Recall that before this latest incident, 10 of our members on board Caverton helicopter were meted with similar act of brutal force in the guise of sustaining the war against the COVID-19 pandemic.” The letter read.
The body called for the immediate release of the detained staff and warned that if such “intimidation persists”, it would be forced, in conjunction with sister unions, to order its members out of all oil facilities in the nation without further notice.
“We warn that should this high level of intimidation and harassment persists, PENGASSAN will, in consultation with our sister union in the sector, have no option than order our members out of the various oil platforms, rigs and other facilities without further notices.” The letter read.
A Whatsapp chat forwarded to REPORT AFRIQUE, one of the arrested staff forwarded said they were on their way to Intels Camp for a “14 days quarantine” before they were arrested by security operatives at the Rivers/Akwa Ibom borders.
The staff decried the condition of their detention saying one of them was asked to sign written statements, after being moved to a Covid-19 isolation construction site with no medical personnel, at Elekahia stadium in Port Harcourt.
It is not clear from the Whatsapp message if the staff had returned from overseas trips or were been moved to the camp as covid-19 suspected cases before their arrest.
The Rivers state governor while briefing newsmen in Port harcourt, Friday, said that the 22 Exxon Mobil staff were arrested for entering Rivers State from Akwa Ibom in violation of the State Executive Order restricting movement to contain spread of COVID-19.
The governor said his government took decisive steps as demanded by the current health protocols to quarantine the arrested persons for 14 days, after which they will be charged to court as demanded by the law.
“Security agencies arrested 22 staff of Exxon Mobil who came into the state from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State in violation of the extant Executive Order restricting movement into the state. We do not know the coronavirus status of these individuals.
“Even though security agencies advised that they be allowed to go back to Akwa Ibom State, I insisted that the law must take its course. This is because nobody is above the law.
“As a responsive government, we have quarantined them in line with the relevant health protocols and they will be charged to court,” he said.
Recall that the Rivers State government, in April , ordered the arrest of two pilots of Caverton Helicopters and their passengers because the company failed to provide the affected persons for tests by the state’s health authorities.
The arrested Caverton pilots had undertaken a trip to Port Harcourt to drop oil workers said to be on essential duty when the state government arrested them for flouting a lockdown order put in place to check the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Their arrest and detention caused a rift between the state and federal governments, with Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika insisting the Governor Nyesom Wike government acted illegally because the workers had been authorised by the federal government.
The pilots were later charged and remanded in detention by a court in Port Harcourt.
Despite the calls for the release of the arrested Exxon Mobil staff, the Rivers state governor said he is undeterred by such antics, emphasizing that no one is above the law.
“The right thing must be done. We are talking about something that is killing people. They want coronavirus to escalate in Rivers State. The law must be tested. Make sacrifice and let us contain the virus.” The governor said.
Governor Wike also said that the second case of coronavirus in the state has recovered and has been discharged.
Rivers state has recorded two cases of the virus since the pandemic broke out in Nigeria. Both cases have now been discharged after they recovered and tested negative for covid-19.