Omicron: Fed Govt is set to ban flights from UK, Canada

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The travel ban by the United Kingdom (UK), Canada and other countries has sparked a big row between Nigeria and some western nations.

In a retaliatory move, Nigeria yesterday announced plans to halt commercial flights from the UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Argentina into its airspace from today or tomorrow.

The UK, which had on December 4 added Nigeria to its red list, imposed the travel ban to curtail the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus. A few days after, Canada, Argentina, ad Saudi Arabia followed suit.

On Wednesday, Leakblast reporters exclusively reported that Nigeria was weighing options against the UK, including retaliatory action, if UK authorities failed to immediately reverse the ban.

Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed last Thursday said it was up to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 to announce an appropriate response to the flight restrictions by the four countries.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who is also a member of the PSC, said in an audio recording shared with reporters in Lagos that airlines from the four countries have lost the moral right to fly into Nigeria.

He said: “They are not supposed to come in. I am very sure in the next three days; Monday or Tuesday, all those countries will be put on the red list of COVID-19.

“There is also the case of Saudi Arabia that put Nigeria on the ban list.

READ ALSO:FG bows to Canada, drops Air Peace from evacuation plan

“On Sunday, I participated in a meeting with the COVID-19 task force.

“We have given our input that it is not acceptable by us and we recommended that those countries- Canada, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina – also be put on the red list.

“As they did to us if they do not allow our citizens into their countries; who are they coming, as airlines, to pick from our country?”

Sirika apologised to Nigerians intending to travel to those countries, saying the government’s decision was in the interest of the country.

A diplomat, Ambassador Bulus Lolo, and an international relations expert, Prof.  Osita Agbu,  welcomed the move by the government, saying it was in tandem with the principle of reciprocity.

Lolo, a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the decision is not new in international diplomacy, “especially under certain circumstances”.

His words: “The reasons Federal Government has given, I believe in my view, are very cogent, if the United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, among others, can place Nigeria on their red list with their citizens coming into Nigeria; this doesn’t make sense.

“It is a very timely and a very good move by Nigeria to embark on the principle of reciprocity; that is being proactive.”

Agbu, who is a senior fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, said the principle of reciprocity is used when it is extremely necessary.

He said it was too early for the UK and the three other countries to have added Nigeria to their red list, considering the fact that Omicron was traced to passengers who travelled through and from Nigeria.

Agbu added: “I am of the opinion that Nigeria should explore diplomacy before embarking on reciprocity. We should be a little bit circumspect.”

The expert recalled that Nigeria once embraced the principle of reciprocity when South Africa deported its citizens.

Mohammed told reporters last week in Abuja, that the “reflex responses” of the UK and others were driven by fear rather than Science.

He described the flight restrictions from Nigeria as “unjust, unfair, punitive, indefensible and discriminatory”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had said countries should apply an “evidence-informed and risk-based approach” when deciding on travel measures related to Omicron, including possible screening or quarantine of international passengers. The world body added that blanket bans may not prevent its spread.

Nigeria has a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with over 90 countries. However, over the years, stakeholders have lamented that most air agreements between Nigeria and other countries have been one-sided as Nigerian airlines have been unable to reciprocate the agreements due to what they termed, “aero-politics”.

 

Air Peace protests to Sirika, faults UAE on operations

Nigeria’s lone carrier operating into the United Arab Emirates  (UAE) , Air Peace, denied flying into Dubai (DXB) Airport in the oil-rich country.

The airliner was reacting to a November 10 letter by UAE Minister of Economy, Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, to Sirika seeking restoration of flight frequencies from his country into Nigeria.

Al-Marri, who doubles as the chairman of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) board, predicated the request on the alleged flight by the Nigerian carrier into Duvai (DXB) Airport.

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But, in a letter   by its Chief Operating Officer, Oluwatoyin Olajide, Air Peace stated that it has only operated in Sharjah Airport

Olajide’s letter reads in part: “We take very serious exception to that letter (by Al Marri). We believe that the minister about the chairman of the board of the GCAA may have been misinformed of the true position of the issues in discourse as no one in such an exalted position and office would deliberately push out such an untrue statement.

“Al Marri letter has misinformed the public about the real facts against us. We do not see what wrong Air Peace has done in the whole saga. We are the ones being wronged and now we are being attacked from a quarter we least expected. Facts don’t lie. In aviation, there are things one cannot lie about.

“Operating into and out of an airport is one of them. When did such flight operations occur? Which slot did we operate? For an airline to conduct scheduled operations into and out of an airport, there are agreements signed with several parties, executed, and implemented.

“There is a need for the authority to provide the Ground Handling Company that handled the scheduled operations in Dubai Airport (DXB) for Air Peace. Air Peace has only operated flights into Sharjah Airport alone.

“Air Peace has never been given slots at the Dubai International Airport. Slot availability was used to deny us operating from that popular airport as it was our first choice. It was the politics of slot unavailability that did not allow us to operate into Dubai Airport directly. The lack of flight slot angle forced us to approach Sharjah Airport as the last resort.

“We were welcomed by the government and people of Sharjah. While we were denied slots in their most important airport, the Dubai Airport,

“Emirates has always enjoyed red carpet treatment in Nigeria where they were given our most important airports- Lagos and Abuja —where they operate a total of 21 flights weekly. We only asked for three flights weekly at the Sharjah Airport and we got same and started operations on the 5th of July, 2019 until Covid-19 lock-downs in 2020.”

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