The announcement from the Ministry of Aviation that Nigeria would enforce the policy of reciprocity as it resumes international flights on September 5, was greeted with support from some stakeholders in the industry who believe it’s long overdue, while some say the country should tread with caution.
At last Thursday’s media briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja, the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, who represented the Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, said the policy means that only airlines from countries that allow flights from Nigeria would be allowed to fly into and out of the country.
“There are certain countries that have placed ban on Nigerians and residents of Nigeria going to that country and this process will determine who and who will be allowed to come into Nigeria. The principle of reciprocity will be applied. The conditions you gave Nigerians to travel to your country will apply to those coming from your countryß.
“If you ban us from coming to your country, the same will apply to you because we have to get a level playing field on the issue of principle of reciprocity. For this process, we had a meeting with foreign airlines on Wednesday. We gave them our requirements on the resumption of flights, for those who will ultimately be allowed to resume flight operations. Nigeria was among 50 countries banned from entering the EU countries. As far as we know, there has not been any change. So the principle of reciprocity will apply,” Nuhu said.
Nigeria has been excluded from the list of countries whose nationals will be allowed into the 27 countries that make up the European Union Commission after it lifted flight restrictions. The countries had shut their borders when the COVID-19 pandemic spread into the region. But with the easing of lockdown restrictions, the EU had released a draft list of 54 countries that will be granted entry into the borders. Some of the countries that would be allowed in include Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay, and China.
Eric Mamer, the spokesperson for the EU commission, said the criteria used to select the countries are based on their health situation. “The European Union has an internal process to determine from which countries it would be safe to accept travelers,” he said.
Though the policy was welcome by many, the stark reality of the implication of restricting entry to over 27 countries and limiting entry to just 1,280 passengers are enormous. At a virtual stakeholders meeting held few days ago, the Managing Director of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Rabiu Yadudu, revealed how it lost N18.9 billion internally generated revenue which is over 90 per cent revenue loss in 23 weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on the guidelines that only 1,280 passengers would be allowed into the country, he expressed concern that fewer passengers will lead to lower incomes.
“The figure automatically translates to fewer passengers and limited income even with the resumption of international operations. All these are issues of great concern to the authority and partly what has necessitated the need for all our stakeholders to rub minds on strategies to adopt to ensure that the industry remains in operation to provide the much-needed service,” he said.
An aviation security expert, Captain John Ojikutu, told Daily Sun, that in enforcing the policy, the government must be cautious as 80 per cent of the industry’s revenue comes from foreign airlines. He said for over 40 to 50 years, Nigerian airlines have been unable to compete effectively with foreign airlines and advised the Federal Government to review the various commercial agreements with foreign airlines and increase the charges on the concessions given to them by a percentage practicable in the commercial market that will not make the country lose the benefits of 80 per cent earnings.
A Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) are arrangements usually between two countries that allow the airworthiness certification of civil aeronautical products to be shared between them. They help reduce duplication of activity and aim for mutual acceptance of certificates. Nigeria has BASA with India, United Arab Emirates, Britain, Isreal, Qatar and many other countries.
Ojikutu said: “The policy of reciprocity in bilateral air services agreements are very similar to those on the foreign policies, hence no BASA is signed without the input of the foreign affairs ministry. However, our reciprocity action on BASA must be very cautious with economic benefits because that is what BASAs are mostly about. At the moment and in the past 40 to 50 years, because we have been unable to compete effectively with the foreign airlines, they have been contributing well over 80% of our earnings in commercial aviation.
“Therefore, we need to go softly on them. Because we cannot unilaterally review the BASA, my advice to the responsible authorities is to review the various commercial agreements with these foreign airlines and increase the charges on the concessions given to each of the airlines by a percentage practicable in the commercial market that will not make us lose the whole benefits of 80% earnings in commercial aviation. We must take another look into the commercial agreements in the BASAs too, where over time, there had been exploitation of them by government officials. Over the years too, this has been a source of revenue lose to the state.”
However, domestic airlines are upbeat about the policy. The Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, applauded the decision in a letter to Sirika. He said: “You have, by this action, brought so much respect to our people and our nation. Nigerians all over the world are walking tall with enormous pride since the last few hours when the news broke out. This is the beginning of the end of the stigmatisation of Nigeria and everything Nigerian. God bless you always. From my sincere heart, I have come to appreciate your nationalistic tendencies.”
Onyema said the Minister, by his conduct and commitment, has ensured that the aviation industry is unencumbered, noting that Sirika facilitated the customs duty waiver on aircraft and spares and currently working on the unification of charges paid by domestic airlines.
The lead consultant of Etimfri group, Amos Akpan, said reciprocity is a standard instrument deployed in diplomatic relations among countries but pointed out that many of the countries that would be affected by the policy do not operate direct flights into Nigeria and that some of the countries use multilateral traffic negotiations to access Nigerian traffic.
“Reciprocity is a standard instrument deployed in diplomatic relations among countries. In Nigeria’s case, at this instance, it is directed at countries that denied us permits to operate evacuation flights. My observation is that those countries do not operate direct flights into Nigeria.