The United Kingdom Government may have bowed to pressures to rescind the controversial red list under which it banned flights to Nigeria and nine other African countries following the outbreak of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 in South Africa.
According to the Mail, the red list is to be scrapped after just a fortnight after it was introduced. The move is expected to be approved this week, the Mail reported on Sunday, apparently due to intense pressures by Nigerian travelers even as the Nigerian Government threatened to impose retaliatory measures against the UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and others that have slammed flight bans on Nigerian travelers.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was said to have convinced his colleagues the red list should be replaced with testing for the fully vaccinated.
The red list met with protests from officials in Nigeria and other affected African countries as travellers in quarantine complained of six-hour journeys to hotel and “grim” food
The emergence of Omicron forced thousands of travellers into hotel quarantine at a cost of £2,285 per person for 10 days.
However, the Head of the Communications Unit of the British High Commission in Abuja, Dean Hurlock, who reacted to a message sent to him, may have dismissed the reported decision to lift the travel ban on Nigeria.
He told LEADERSHIP yesterday that “we have no official reaction. We routinely don’t comment on speculation. Our official position remains as stated in our recently issued press release”, he said.
The earlier press statement said “Nigeria to be added to the travel red list from 4am Monday 6 December following 21 cases of Omicron variant of COVID-19 reported in England which were linked to travel from Nigeria.
“These are temporary measures that have been introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK, and will be examined at the three-week review point on 20 December.”
UK government added Nigeria to the travel red list from Monday December 6 and people travelling to UK from any country will need to take pre-departure test from 7 December.
Other countries on UK red list are: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Nigerian Government then on Sunday, December 12, threatened to retaliate over the travel restrictions on its citizens by banning flights from the United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina, following their decisions to include Nigeria on the red list.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who disclosed this in a leaked audio, revealed that the ban on the four countries would be announced today by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19.
“The sovereignty of 200 million people is too important for us to toy with,” the minister said in the audio which recently went viral.
Sirika said further “Also, there is a case of Saudi Arabia, which put Nigeria on the banned list – no visa, no travel, et cetra so, also Canada. So, today, there was a meeting, I participated in a zoom meeting, COVID-19 task force, just for your information also.
“We have given our input in aviation, it is not acceptable by us and we recommend that those countries – Canada, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina be also put on 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?
“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.”
In the same vein, the row between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over flight bans has deepened in the recent days as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) withdrew the ministerial approval granted Emirates Airlines by the Ministry of Aviation following the refusal of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) to grant equal rights to the sole Nigerian carrier, Air Peace, flying to Dubai via Sharjah.
However, on Friday, Emirates announced the suspension of operations between Nigeria and Dubai until both countries resolved the fresh diplomatic row.
In a travel notice on its website on Friday evening, the United Arab Emirates flag carrier said the suspension would start on Monday until when Nigeria and the Arab nation resolve the ongoing issue.
The UAE, however, said the action taken by the NCAA regarding the Air Peace’s approval at Sharjah was unjustifiable and not in line with the spirit of the agreed air services arrangements between the two nations.
However, LEADERSHIP checks reveal that, these two scenarios have made international travel cumbersome for Nigerians planning to travel out of the country for yuletide, health and education purposes.
Meanwhile, the flight bans may have begun to hit hard on Nigerians as stranded air passengers may resort to neighbouring West-African countries’ airports to connect to their various destinations.
Stakeholders in the aviation industry have said that Nigerians will move to neighbouring West-African countries to connect to their various destinations.
According to them, the travel ban will create market for countries like Ghana and Togo who are not on the red list of the UK, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Argentina.
Speaking to newsmen, a former president, National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, Isaac Balami, said going to neighbouring West-African countries to board flight is short time alternative for air passengers.
According to him, the government planned travel ban on the UK, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Argentina is a necessary pain that will eventually pay off.”Going to neighbouring West-African countries to connect to their destinations is a short time alternative for passengers. However, the government is doing the right thing because we have always been referred to as giant of Africa but leaders in the past have let us lose this status as small countries treat us as if we are nothing.
The issue of travel ban and slot withdrawal is an issue in Africa and Nigeria being a giant of Africa shouldn’t be taken for granted. However, it is a pain we should endure and in the long run, it will pay off.
“You can’t continue slamming travel ban on us at every opportunity and we shouldn’t fight back. There are Nigerians that have residency permit and citizenship of those countries and we can’t ask them not to go but, these countries must respect us because they are witch hunting us and taking us for granted for so many years and when we fight this, they will have no choice than to respect us and it will be the beginning of greater things for the country,” Balami said
Also speaking, a former commandant of the Lagos Airport, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), argued that slamming travel ban on foreign airlines would create market for countries like Ghana and Lome.
According to him, Nigerians could go to any other neighbouring country to board any other international flights.
His words, “They will go to Ghana and Togo and Nigeria will lose at the end. Rather, we shouldn’t tell them not to come but, they should come with Nigerians and take foreigners out of the country because when they land in our airports, they pay us five percent landing fee.
“But, with the travel ban, we are creating market for countries like Ghana and Togo but, only if the battle on the ground is between the airlines and the commercial agreements between the countries on the two sides of the divides.
“However, the issues are not about nationals of the two countries. Yes, Nigerians can go to the neighbouring countries to board any other international flights. When Abacha banned British Airways in 1995/96 and the airline was operating to Accra Ghana, Nigerians including government officials under Abacha were going to Ghana to catch the BA to Europe and board connecting flights to US and other parts of the world and still return same way to the country,” he explained.
The national president, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) Com. Ahmadu Ilitrus said if a country is not safe for its citizens to come in then, it shouldn’t be safe to fly in.
Ilitrus, however, called on countries to exercise restraint in slamming travel ban on countries saying it would affect international air travel and transportation.
He said, “And, if a country is not safe for your people to fly into, then why do you need to fly into such country as well. We are in a precarious situation, decisions of this nature that is not scientific driven will do more harm to Air transportation.
“I think if the decision to slam travel ban is scientific but that is something we should consider before doing it because there are lot of Protocols in place to curtail COVID-19 so, states should not be too much in a hurry to slam travel ban on other countries. If you are fully vaccinated, and you observe the protocol and also have PCR, you should be allowed to fly so the bans are knee-jerk and no scientific basis.
“What is the big deal about Omicron, states slamming travel ban should be more careful even when IATA had warned that states should exercise restraint in slamming travel ban we should exercise restraints.”
In another development, several Nigerian air passengers were yesterday stranded at airports across the world as the fiasco between the federal government and the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took another dimension on Monday.
However, due to this fiasco, UAE reportedly stopped foreign airlines from airlifting Nigerians to Dubai from across the world.
Sources at the two international airports on Monday morning said Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Air and other international airlines going to Dubai from their bases refused to board Nigerians whose final destination is the UAE.
The airlines it was gathered insisted that they have been directed not to airlift Nigerian passport holders to Dubai.
Hundreds of passengers are affected by this directive as Ethiopian Airline offloaded their Nigerian passengers to Dubai.
”UAE says no entry for Nigerian passengers from any airline. Ethiopian just offloaded all passengers heading to Dubai. We are voiding Dubai bound tickets,” a source at the airport told our correspondent.