Mixed reactions trail UAE’s denial of visa ban lift on Nigeria

The recent denial of lifting of visa ban on Nigerians by the government of the United Arab Emirates following a visit by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to its leadership may have further dashed the hope of many Nigerians who are joyous over the earlier announcement.

This became evident in the ongoing back and forth reactions from the officials of the governments of the two countries over the outcome of discussions on issues affecting the visa ban and withdrawal of flights between the two countries.

At the end of the visit, the spokesperson of Nigeria’s government, Ajuri Ngelale claimed that during the meeting that the UAE authorities have agreed to lift the visa ban slammed on Nigerians on one hand, and the withdrawal of flight operations of the two carriers from UAE, Emirates and Etihad from Nigeria over their trapped funds in Nigeria.

While the Federal Government’s spokesperson declared that the visa ban and flight suspension had been resolved with airlines from both ends set to resume flights, the UAE government has continued to reject the claims by the Nigerian officials.

The UAE government said the position of Nigeria was not the true position of issues discussed at the diplomatic meeting hence, the status quo remains until all issues are totally resolved.

According to information gathered, the issue relating to the lifting of the visa ban and the restoration of flight between Nigeria and the UAE actually took the center stage with the UAE officials promising to back down but not until after the agreement must have been fully documented.

Another reason attributed to the sudden recanting of the UAE was the fear of the spiraling effect its prevailing on Nigeria to settle the trapped funds of its two airlines in isolation of other foreign carriers who are all under the International Air Transport Association (IATA) may cause for it with the global clearinghouse for all the foreign airlines whose funds have been trapped in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, according to sources, the Nigerian government officials did not wait for all the agreements to be documented before rushing to make the declaration, a situation which threw the UAE off balance.

Fear of not being adequately represented in the yet to be documented agreement has also been attributed to the consistent rejection of Nigeria’s position by the UAE authorities.

Key players in the sector who reacted to the controversy blamed the communication breakdown between the two countries on the over excitement of the Nigeria government officials about the anxiety over the resumption of activities between the two countries.

Reacting to the development which has attracted wider negativity, the president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents (NANTA), Mrs Akporiaye, has cautioned Nigerians not to blame the federal government for the communication breakdown.

According to Akporiaye, contrary to the denial of the lift of visa bans on Nigeria by the UAE, it is possible that they actually accepted to lift the visa ban and restore flights between the two countries, but had their mind changed about the deal when President Tinubu left their country.

She cautioned Nigerians against rushing to blame the government because of the deep bureaucracies that exist among the foreign countries.

An aviation analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity described President Tinubu as being a politician, saying because the Emiratis are being prudent, they are insisting there must be thorough consultations among themselves in ensuring they get all their backlog of trapped funds paid before the restoration of flights and lift of visa ban.

In his reaction, the managing director of Centurion Aviation Security, Group Captain John Ojikutu, retired, insisted that the refusal of the UAE to shift ground on their hitherto hard stance against Nigeria is beyond the visa ban, but rather has to do with the trapped funds of the two carriers from the UAE.

According to Ojikutu: “I knew from the onset that what I was hearing was not necessarily the visa matter but more on the trapped monies which those in the Tinubu trip kept under. I knew what was being said would not work if the issues of the trapped monies are not solved. The issues of the trapped monies are not necessarily for the UAE airlines but for all the foreign airlines and the Nigerian government can not solve those for the UAE in isolation.

“What is the reason for the foreign airlines monies to get trapped in their banks not at the CBN? The problem to my knowledge is not the CBN but with the ministry of aviation and its agencies. The questions to ask are: firstly, are foreign airlines owing any of the public or private services providers? Secondly, how or in what currency do the foreign airlines pay the service providers? To the best of my knowledge, none of the foreign airlines is indebted to any of the service providers otherwise, you would have heard that as the reason for the trapping of the money. Secondly, to the best of my knowledge, the foreign airlines by IATA standards pay the services providers generally in dollars. My last calculations about two years ago with about 30,000 flights and two million passengers show that the Nigerian services providers make minimum of $2.5bn from FAAN, NAMA, Ground Handling Services, Fuel and Marketers mainly.

“The questions you should ask these service providers is, where do they deposit their earnings in forex from these foreign airlines? By the IATA standards, earnings on services are domiciled or monetized in dollars. Secondly, in 2006, following the crashes of 2005/2006, Chief Obasanjo as president, directed that the dollar earnings of the government agencies be deposited in a domiciliary account with the CBN and naira equivalent collected. However, when needed, the naira can be returned and the dollar collected only with the approval of a responsible authority. I doubt if this directive was ever followed since that first and only public hearing by any Nigerian President on our crumbling aviation industry. Outside the forex earnings by the services providers, there is the money on BASA and Commercial Agreements also in dollars, where are all these monies? Institutional Corruption.”                                                    


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