Nigeria-UAE spat: Can we begin to count the losses?

Nigerians who missed Dubai, United Arab Emirates thought that issues that held them from travelling to Dubai had been sorted out when the UAE on Saturday lifted the air travel ban on Nigeria. For Nigeria, it sounded like a Pyrrhic victory until the Arab nation re-imposed the ban on the country till ‘further notice’, writes, WOLE SHADARE

When two elephants fight….

There is a popular saying that when two elephants fight, the grass is the one that suffers. The centre of a lush grass suddenly gets uprooted going by the weight of two animals weighing over 22, 000 pounds trying to outwit each other in a fisticuffs.

The fight here is not the physical fight exemplified in boxing but one which involves the ego of two great nations-Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over modalities for screening of passengers before Emirates could airlift passengers both from Nigeria and Dubai.

What started as a child’s play on February 1, 2021 later snowballed into major diplomatic spat between both nations; although, they have hidden under COVID-19 pandemic to try to force each other into doing its bidding. This has remained one of the smoothest political maneuverings one has ever seen as both nations use two instruments of their countries to play the game.

 

Nigeria’s Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika

While Nigeria used the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to stand its grounds, the UAE on the other hand deployed Emirates, one of the country’s unifying institutions to make a very loud statement by stopping services to Lagos and Abuja.

Whenever ego comes into play, nothing else matters to nations or individuals. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has made a mess of airlines’ bottom-line leading to the first ever $5.5 billion loss by Emirates in 33 years.

Yes, the first ever loss may not mean anything to the carrier as it is heavily backed by the government of UAE. The oil rich nation had already injected $1.1 billion in state support after a collapse in long-haul travel due to the coronavirus pandemic triggered the airline’s first annual loss in more than three decades.

But the truth remains that Emirates is said to be the second biggest revenue earner after British Airways on the lucrative Dubai-Nigeria route. Its absence from the route may have benefited airlines like Ethiopian and others. Beyond that, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has equally lost enormously from the ban or suspension.

Many are of the view that if FAAN was not tied to the government’s apron strings, it would have been the first to cry out and possibly look at mediating to avert the issues that led to suspension.

READ ALSO:  FAAN, NAHCO, Air Peace nominated for Nigeria Transport Awards

The airport authority charges $100 dollars per passenger as airport tax. That alone runs into millions of dollars and billions of Naira lost by the agency to the action. We should not forget the vendor service tax for consumption. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has equally made enormous losses including fuel marketers, just to mention a few.

The face-off seemingly was over when on June 19, 2021, the UAE through Dubai Media Office announced the lifting of travel ban, stating that passengers from Nigeria are expected to have received a negative result for a PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure.

Emirates Airlines quickly followed that up as it expressed joy at the protocols that would have seen to the resumption of flights in Nigeria from June 23rd.

The airline in a statement welcomed the protocols and measures announced by Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management to allow the safe resumption of passenger travel from South Africa, Nigeria and India to Dubai.

“We look forward to facilitating travel from these countries and supporting various travelers’ categories. We will resume carrying passengers from South Africa, Nigeria and India in accordance with these protocols from 23rd June. We thank the Supreme Committee for their continuous efforts in monitoring the development of the situation and announcing the appropriate guidelines and protocols to protect the community and safeguard the travel sector.”

 

Emirates

As enthusiastic Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief with plans to begin trips to Dubai which they have missed so much from June 23, 2021, the country got a shock as Dubai reversed itself.

In a brutal manner, the Arabian nation said it was suspending flights to and from the West African cities of Lagos and Abuja with effect from June 21 ‘until further notice’.

The re-imposition of travel ban on the West African nation elicited shock among teeming Nigerian travelers who got excited by the lifting of the ban imposed by UAE since February this year following spat between UAE and Nigeria over modalities for conducting tests on travelers to and from Dubai to Nigeria.

The UAE did not explain what influenced her decision to make-a U-turn to re-impose a ban on the country.The airline in a statement said customers travelling to and from Lagos and Abuja will not be accepted for travel, and those who have been to – or connected through – Nigeria in the last 14 days will not be permitted to board from any other point to the UAE.

READ ALSO:  At 10th aviation summit, stakeholders draw road map for Africa’s sector recovery 

“We regret the inconvenience caused, and affected customers should contact their booking agent or Emirates call center for re-booking,” said the airline. “Emirates remains committed to Nigeria, and we look forward to resuming passenger services when conditions allow.”

Emirates’ also said that flights from South Africa will remain suspended until July 6, in line with government directives that restrict the entry of travelers originating from South Africa, into the UAE.

 

Dubai City

Melting pot

Dubai is the melting pot for Nigerian holiday makers, fun seekers and for business deals. It is the country of choice because it is relatively easier to travel to the country due to relaxed visa policy.

If there’s one trend that has been growing in Nigeria over the past decade, it is that Dubai has become a top destination for many Nigerians. It is now commonplace for many Nigerians, especially the ones that are going on vacation outside the continent for the first time to choose Dubai as the place to visit.

Nigerians love the desert safari. The men dress up in the traditional thawb to explore the desert in the city and also take lovely pictures. Being that Nigeria is a sub-Saharan country in West Africa without any desert, it fascinates many Nigerians to spend time out in the desert and see how beautiful it is. It’s even more intriguing to watch the sunset while in the desert.

Mega city

Another reason Nigerians throng the city is Dubai being a mega city has attracted a lot of malls that sell some of the best products in the world. Even though men love to purchase a couple of things from Dubai, women are the ones that really take advantage of the shops. Every time a woman goes to Dubai from Nigeria, she’s sure to come back with some exotic clothes and bags.

With thousands of Nigerians travelling to Dubai or transiting it to catch connecting flights to their respective destinations in Europe, Australasia, the wider Asia and the Americas, the Nigeria-Dubai flight route is one of the lucrative routes for the Emirates.

Emirates aircraft cabin

Undermining recovery struggle

READ ALSO:  FG seeks N35bn for airport perimeter fencing

But all these beautiful attractions were deserted because of the travel ban as privileged Nigerians were holed up in Nigeria and could not find an alternative to Dubai because of difficult visa policy, coronavirus induced lock-down. But the lifting of the ban could see many taking to air travel to the beautiful city.

The face-off undermined the struggles of the aviation industry in both countries to recover from the unprecedented losses over the last year due to the COVID-19 lock-down and travel restrictions.

Its persistence even ruffled diplomatic relations between Abuja and Abu Dhabi in a time when the former needs the latter’s maximum cooperation in tackling the activities of some subversive Nigerian syndicates with their foreign collaborators engaged in facilitating Boko Haram financing, money-laundering and other financial crimes, through Dubai.

Racketeering

To be fair, it’s an open secret that since the introduction of a negative COVID-19 test result as a requirement for international travels, the “business” of arranging forged negative test results had thrived in Abuja and Lagos.

International travelers who either don’t want to experience the “stress” of going for the test, or are COVID-19 positive, or simply feel too important to be tested, part with a fortune to get laboratory-issued and genuine-looking forged negative COVID-19 test results. And with the connivance of some unscrupulous government personnel at Abuja and Lagos airports, they got cleared to travel until the government burst the syndicates.

However, the UAE’s unilateral introduction of an additional quick test on all Dubai-bound travelers from Nigeria effectively ended that “business” at least on the Nigeria-Dubai route, which, of course, angered the beneficiaries.

 

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

Last line

It is in the interest of both countries to resolve this face-off through reciprocal compromise. The Nigerian government did not feign ignorance or denied the fact that fake negative COVID-19 results were being issued to willing outbound travelers from Nigeria, for a fortune. It immediately stopped that practice and made the process of obtaining the result to be relatively transparent to be manipulated.

However, the UAE shouldn’t have unilaterally introduced the controversial additional quick COVID-19 test in Nigeria in the first place; it should have done that in coordination with relevant Nigerian authorities.

Wole Shadare