Monday, July 4, 2022

COVID-19 Ban Row: Nigeria Places Travel Ban On UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia

The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika.
The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika.

Sequel to travel restrictions placed on Nigeria over the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, by the United Kingdom (UK), Canada and Saudi Arabia, the Nigerian government has placed travellers from the said countries on her ‘red’ list, restricting flights from them into her airports.

The decision was communicated by the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika while responding to the Nigeria and Emirates Airlines’ row and the subsequent withdrawal of summer flights’ schedule.

Recall, the UK had imposed travel restrictions on Nigeria, claiming that 21 cases of Omicron recorded in England were linked to travellers from Nigeria. The travel ban was trailed by global outrage, with some national and international stakeholders describing it as “racist and discriminatory”.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia had put Nigeria on its “no visa, no travel” list. Also, Canada banned travellers from Nigeria over the COVID-19 variant.

“There is also the case of Saudi Arabia that put Nigeria on the ban list. On Sunday, I participated in a meeting with the COVID-19 task force.

“We have informed them that it is not acceptable. As a result, we recommended that travellers from Canada, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Argentina also be put on the red list, as they did [to us].

“If they don’t allow our citizens into their countries, why should their carriers fly from or come into our country? 

“I am very sure that, in the next few days, between now and Monday, Tuesday, all those countries will be put on the ‘red’ list by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) from the task force of COVID-19. Once that is done, their airlines will be banned.”

Also, Emirates Airlines suspended flights from Nigeria, effective December 13, 2021.

The Federal Government of Nigeria, on Friday, responded by limiting flights from the airline from 21 flights weekly to just one, on Thursdays, from Abuja – which was allowed, after The UAE granted Air Peace only a slot to fly into its Sharjah International Airport, even though Air Peace sought three weekly passenger flights.

The minister, as well as the chairman of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said that the decision of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to withdraw its initially approved schedule for the Emirates Airlines was “unjust”.

“Referring on the letter with Ref No NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/329 dated 9th December 2021 where the NCAA notified the country manager of Emirates Airline in Nigeria regarding the withdrawal of the ministerial approval granted to that airline, concerning their winter schedule. The NCAA further advised EK that this withdrawal becomes effective on 12th December 2021, at 2300Z and, hence, EK is granted approval to operate only one in a weekly passenger frequency to Abuja on Thursdays.

“The GCAA wishes to stress that the action being taken by the NCAA is not in line with the spirit of the agreed air service arrangements between our two nations. We suggest that Air Peace should consider flying their two other flights to any UAE Airport at which there are available slots. As expected, the GCAA will support Air Peace in this activity, well required”.

The foreign carrier, however, apologised for the “inconveniences caused” and vowed to reinstate services once restrictions were lifted by the Nigerian authorities.

Sirika apologised to Nigerians intending to travel to those countries and said the Nigerian government’s decision was in the interest of the country, stressing that airlines of the affected countries remained banned and the countries placed on Nigeria’s ‘red’ list.

“I’m so sorry, we are going through a difficult moment, but we have to do it in the interest of our country,” he added.

Oluchi Okorafor
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