Air travels: It’s tit for tat as FG fires back at UK, Canada, Saudi, Argentina

 

Barring any last minute change, the federal government may have concluded plans to slam similar measures on the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Canada and Argentina, all of which banned flights originating from Nigerians and also citizens from the country.

 The countries have over the last two weeks, adduced various reasons for placing Nigeria on the red-list countries following the outbreak of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. 

However, in a tit for tat move, the federal government said it would take nothing of such from the aforementioned countries and therefore vowed similar ban on flights from those countries.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, in a trending audio that has gone viral on the social media, revealed that the ban would  probably be made public today Monday or Tuesday by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha. 

Sirika was similarly heard explaining the government’s decision to accord Emirates Airlines one weekly entry following the UAE’s recalcitrant attitude not to allow a Nigerian carrier-Air Peace- enjoy a similar privilege accorded the Emirates in Nigeria.

UK others’ travel bans

The UK had imposed travel restrictions on Nigeria on the strength that 21 cases of Omicron recorded in England were linked to travellers from the West African nation.

While Argentina and Canada had introduced similar measure before the UK, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced the ban on Nigerian flight/travellers after the UK did same.

This decision was however trailed by global outrage with some national and international stakeholders describing it as racist and discriminatory.

In one the reactions, the Nigerian government through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described the UK ban as “discriminatory, unfair, punitive, indefensible, and unjust.”

Mohammed had also hinted that the PSC would come up with a position if the ban was not reversed.

Sirika

Dropping a hint in this regard via a leaked audio, Senator Sirika said Nigeria would henceforth reciprocate in similar measures any nation that places any form of restrictions on Nigerians and Nigerian carrier. 

Sirika said: “Also, there is a case of Saudi Arabia, which put Nigeria on the banned list – no visa, no travel, etc. So also Canada. So, today, there was a meeting. I participated in a zoom meeting, COVID-19 task force, just for your information also,” referring to the group he is a member. 

“We have given our input in aviation, it is not acceptable by us and we recommend that those countries, i. e, Canada, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina be also put on the red list, as they did similarly to us.

“If they don’t allow our citizens to go into their countries, who are their airlines coming to pick from our country?” he queried.” 

“So, I am very sure that in the next few days, between now and Monday, or perhaps Tuesday, at maximum, all those countries will be put on the red list from the PSC (Presidential Steering Committee) from the task force of COVID-19.

“Once they are put on the red list, which means they are banned, of course, their airlines will be banned. I’m so sorry, we are going through a difficult moment, but we have to do it in the interest of our country,” the minister further said.

Stakeholders back FG   

Meanwhile, a cross section of stakeholders have thrown their support behind the action of the federal government.

They said nations that mostly enjoyed the benefits of the Bilateral Air Service Agreement BASA with Nigeria were in the habit of denigrating Nigeria when asked to reciprocate similar privileges they enjoyed in their countries. 

Industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART) described the actions of the Minister as a step in the right direction. 

 President ART Dr Gabriel Olowo said:  “This remains the necessary and sufficient condition to avail markets for our Carriers, address anti-competition practices prevalent in Nigeria market till date due to corruption, reduce the heavy demand on FX for Airline home remittance, build strong Nigerian Flag Carriers and consequently build a strong economy.”

He further said: “ART Hopes and Persuaded that correction of these anomalies will NOT be treated in isolation but applied to ALL the foreign operations into Nigeria. Reciprocity on number of Frequencies and Choice of Entry points.” 

Olowo reiterated that “I am indeed very elated to read the current decision by the Government through NCAA DG Captain Nuhu Musa that our long time agitation on schedule reciprocity to Nigeria is finally being addressed. 

“Emirate (EK) was granted only one weekly frequency and to only One entry point (ABV) on Thursdays in its winter schedule.

“Emirates had before now operated 21 weekly frequencies to Two Entry points (LOS and ABV) whereas Nigerian Carrier Air Peace wanted 3 Frequencies to Sharjah and was granted only one weekly frequency 

“The Action of the DG here is highly commendable and confirms his professionalism and love for Nigeria to emancipate and address the Negative Balance of Trade between reciprocating countries Participation in Nigeria’s BASA.” 

Emirates explains

But in a statement by Emirates Airlines in Nigeria Sunday, the airline explained why it decided to halt its operations into the country. 

This position was contained in a statement by the media agency to the airline.

It said: “With the recently imposed directive limiting Emirates to operate one flight per week to Nigeria via Abuja, Emirates will be completely suspending its flights between Nigeria and Dubai, until the Civil Aviation Authorities from both countries find a solution to the current ongoing issue.”

The statement added “We regret the inconvenience caused, and customers can contact their travel agent or booking office to make alternative arrangements.

“Emirates is committed to its operations in Nigeria, and we stand  ready to reinstate services once restrictions are lifted by the Nigerian authorities, ensuring travellers have more choice and  access to trade and tourism opportunities in Dubai, and beyond to our network of over 120 destinations.”

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