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UAE Visa Ban: Don’t Sacrifice Us For Foreign Airlines, Air Peace Boss Cautions Tinubu



Air Peace founder and Chief Executive Officer, Allen Onyema, has cautioned President Bola Ahmed Tinubu against favouring Emirates Arline and Etihad at the detriment of local airlines.

Onyema said on Friday that he wants Nigerian airlines to be prioritized as the governments works out modalities of settling the long dispute between the UAE and Nigeria, which led to Emirates Airlines and Etihad suspending their operations in Nigeria and a subsequent visa ban in 2022.

The airlines suspended operations over trapped funds with the Central Bank of Nigeria. But Nigerian airlines also have millions of dollars trapped with the apex bank as a result of the country’s foreign exchange crunch.

Tinubu made steps to mend the diplomatic ties between the UAE and Nigeria which would normalize business relations- lifting of visa ban and resumption of the operations of Emirates and Etihad.

Onyema said on Arise TV, “I can’t say we feel shortchanged. I want to applaud first of all the fact that the president went out there to normalize relations between two countries which were hitherto friends.

“That is a very landmark achievement to me. We have a lot to gain together. On the aviation side, you see charity begins at home. It is true there are issues of trapped funds in Nigeria but the foreign airlines are not alone in it.

“We support that Nigeria should pay airlines of foreign origins their money but at the same time, the government should look into what is happening in the Nigerian government funds. Most of us have naira and dollars with the CBN and they have not given us our naira or dollars.

“So, are the Nigerian airlines different from the international airlines? We are the people that actually bring the jobs. All the foreign airlines put together about 30 of them do not have up to 100 Nigerians employed directly by them. They all use NAHCO and SAHCO. But most of us have about 6,000 workforce creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and moving the country around without these foreign airlines.

“We support the payment of foreign airlines but at the same time, the local airlines should be given their dues. Nigerian airlines are not weak what they lack is truthful government support.”

Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo at the signing of the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASAL) with South Africa hinted that the Nigerian authorities are working out the details of the agreement with the UAE.

Keyamo hinted that he met with Emirate and Etihad over issues of the trapped funds and the need to give Nigerian flag carriers more flight frequencies.

“I made it clear that they will have to give our airlines reciprocal rights under our BASA. That is the point I insisted on, and they did say that any spot we need, they will give us as much as we give them those spots within Nigeria,” the minister said.

But the Air Peace boss said the Tinubu-led government should fight more to protect the interest of local airlines.

According to him, international aerospace politics is “so dirty” adding countries other than Nigeria fight to protect their flag carriers.

Onyema said, “Talking about BASA, you all were witnesses to what happened. Emirates will fly twice to Lagos and ones to Abuja. Etihad comes so it is over 20 flight frequencies.

“At the stop of the Covid issues, we wanted to go to even Sharjah and they refused us. At a time, Air Peace was begging for just one slot a week to Sharjah and they said there was no slot until I went to the Federal High Court in Nigeria to stop all the airlines from them from coming into this country before government wadded in. I then said I won’t go to Sharjah again; I must go to Dubai before they allowed us. This is international aero politics.

“It is so dirty. Nigeria is owing them, fine they should be paid. When they were pulling out, they realized if they pulled out the way they threatened, there was an Air Peace waiting behind to fill up the gap and the next thing was the visa ban.

“I applaud them because countries are supposed to protect their own and that was what they did. That is how countries function. But over here most times we sacrifice our own for other climes.”