By Chinelo Obogo [email protected] 07064781119
The diplomatic row between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the COVID-19 protocols of both countries shows no sign of abating while countries like Egypt, Ghana, Turkey, Kenya and others are benefiting from the feud.
On February 1, Emirates Airline caused outrage in the aviation industry after it announced the policy stating that all passengers departing Nigeria are required to obtain a negative COVID-19 certificate after an antigen test must have been conducted at the airport on the date of departure with the passenger bearing the cost. The Federal Government immediately responded to the UAE’s directive by imposing a ban on Emirates flights into Nigeria.
It has been over 19 weeks since the ban on flights between Nigeria and Dubai was imposed but some Nigerians who have businesses to attend to in Dubai or any of the United Arab Emirates states, now travel to Ghana and board flights going straight to the Arab city, while others now opt for countries like Egypt, Turkey for trade, holidays and tourism.
By 2019, Dubai became one of the top destinations visited by Nigerians and at the Akwaaba African Travel Market, Fahad Obaid Mohamed Al Taffag, the Ambassador of the UAE to Nigeria provided market insights and an update on visitor figures. He said the city’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing reported an increase in tourism volumes from Nigeria, Africa’s largest market for inbound traffic. He said inbound traffic from Nigeria to Dubai grew by 28 per cent year-on-year, cementing its position as the Emirate’s 17th largest source market as it welcomed 113,000 overnight visitors in the first seven months of 2019.
In order to create more alternatives for Nigerians in the light of the diplomatic row with UAE, the Nigerian Association of Travel Agencies (NANTA) commenced an Africa to Africa Tourism Promotion Initiative chiseled out of Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) three months ago and four African carriers were chosen to pilot the programme; Egypt Air, RwandAir, Kenya Airways, and Ethiopian airlines.
National President of NANTA, Susan Akporiaye, said the scheme is geared towards driving and facilitating intra-African trade and tourism. And since the scheme started, Egypt Air has seen tremendous increase in passenger traffic from Nigeria.
“I have received calls of appreciation from the management of Egypt Air, commending NANTA members for coming out with trade and tour groups since we birthed the agenda and you won’t believe it, all flights for shopping and holidays are headed towards Cairo and as the summer beckons, we expect Nigerians who are used to Dubai, will find Cairo a more better and inspiring alternative.
“We are waiting for Kenya Airways, RwandAir and Ethiopian airlines to come up with their holiday brand. Interestingly, RwandAir has reached out to us with its ambitious project. We at NANTA will provide the needed support, particularly in getting them a window into Nigerian vast and virgin tourism market. We are waiting for Ethiopian Airlines to address some concerns, otherwise, we are ready for the tourism trade revolution which is worth more than $3trillion. We shall soon make available the statistics of passenger growth capacity which our initiative has contributed to profitability of the carriers in these tough times,”Akporiaye said.
Timeline of ban on Dubai flights
On February 4, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) announced the suspension of Emirates airline’s operations in Nigeria for violating the Presidential TaskForce on COVID-19 (PTF) directives and COVID-19 protocols. But about 72 hours after the ban on Emirates, the FG rescinded it after both countries reached an agreement to follow Nigeria’s health protocol.
The FG reimposed the ban on Emirates on March 15, accusing the airline of rescinding on the agreement and on March 25, 2021, the UAE embassy in Abuja announced new COVID-19 travel protocols for Nigeria as measures to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the country. Passengers who have been in or transited through South Africa or Nigeria in the last 14 days before travelling to Dubai were barred from entering Dubai.
From March till June, no flights from Dubai were coming in and no flights from Nigeria were entering the city. But on Saturday, June 19, Emirates announced that it would be resuming flight operations in Nigeria from June 23. A statement from Dubai Media Office said passengers from Nigeria were expected to have received a negative result for a PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure. Passengers were also expected to present a negative PCR test certificate with a QR code from laboratories approved by the Nigerian government, while also undergoing same test upon arrival at the Dubai Airport.
However, less than 48 hours after the UAE announced the lift on ban of flights coming and going out of Nigeria, Emirates Airline again announced suspended flights to and from Lagos and Abuja with effect from June 21 until further notice. According to the airline, 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.
In a letter to passengers, the airline said: “We regret the inconvenience caused, and affected customers should contact their booking agent or Emirates call centre for rebooking,” 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.
“Daily passenger flights to Johannesburg will operate as EK763, but outbound passenger services on EK 764 remain suspended. Customers who have been to or connected through South Africa in the last 14 days will not be permitted on any Emirates flights bound for Dubai,” the airline stated.
Akporiaye said the association was in full support of government’s reciprocity because the UAE’s policy was putting excessive financial burden on passengers from Nigeria. Akporiaye, a micro biologist, explained that a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test is more comprehensive than an antigen test and the possibility of detecting the virus is higher. She said: “You can test negative with the antigen test and positive with the PCR and that is why with the antigen, your result comes out in less than 20 minutes. You can’t use the antigen test to curb those that are going into your country with fake test, so what I would advise the UAE government to do is that since they already have a PCR test being done on arrival in Dubai that should take care of that.
“We should also give kudos to our government because many governments think they can dump anything on Nigeria and we would not have a choice. Is UAE saying we don’t have qualified medical personnel in Nigeria that they have to bring in their own specialists into our country to carry out antigen tests for intending passengers at the foot of the aircraft? When the Nigerian government rejected UAE’s directive, I was very happy…”