(Updated) COVID-19: Air Peace Evacuates 274 Israelis to Tell-Aviv

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*Onyema my hero, says Israeli ambassador

Nigeria’s biggest carrier, Air Peace, has evacuated about 274 Israelis from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to Israel.

Israel said it evacuated its citizens because of fears of increasing spread of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, so the citizens would be taken home where there are better medical facilities and personnel.

The flight, which airlifted 65 passengers from Lagos and 209 passengers from Abuja was operated by Air Peace Boeing 777-300 with registration number 5N-BWI.

The Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, described the flight as historic because it is the first time Nigeria and Israel would have a direct flight and expressed hope that going forward the two countries would have scheduled direct flight between Lagos and Tel-Aviv.

“It is a historic day for both Nigeria and Israel. History has been made today. 60 years of diplomatic relations, no direct flight has been conducted between Nigeria and Israel till today. So this is the first time Nigeria and Israel will have direct air connectivity. So it is a historic day and it is going to portend greater things that will come. Both countries have a lot to gain by having direct flights. Nigeria is a land of huge potential, which Israel may be willing to tap into, while Nigeria will want to tap into science and technology, which Israel is known for.

“I really want to thank the federal government of Nigeria for making this possible. Previous administrations were unable to pull this through, but this government did it. We have a compassionate government; that I can tell you. It is difficult to get flight permits even during this critical period of emergencies from other countries, but Nigeria did not waste a second to approve this flight. The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, approved the request the moment it was presented to him. All the heads of aviation agencies gave their support, which made the flight possible. So it is the federal government that made the evacuation possible,” Onyema said.

He said the Israeli government also gave its support and allowed, for the first time, a Nigerian airline to operate direct flight to Israel, noting that this is something good for both countries, “good for our diplomatic relations”.

“So I feel proud, I feel privileged to be part of this history and I thank God Almighty for it. We have to build from here now going forward,” the Air Peace Chairman said.

He also said, “This COVID-19 storm will be over someday. When it is over, we look forward to do scheduled direct flight to Israel; at least twice a week to Tel-Aviv. So I say kudos to the Buhari administration for making this come through.”

The Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Shimon Ben-Shoshan, expressed happiness for the successful evacuation of his country’s citizens from Nigeria and commended the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, for his invaluable contribution in making the airlift possible.

“The outbreak of the novel Coronavirus and an upsurge in the number of infected people has led to a global alarm with some governments ordering a recall of their citizens who are in the non-essential positions around the world. The State of Israel is one of the latest countries who have recalled its citizens for the purpose of flattening the curve and reducing the number of infected persons globally.

“In keeping with the order for the citizens to return home, approximately 250 Israeli citizens in Nigeria have become the first travellers to board a direct flight from Nigeria to Israel. This historical flight operated by Nigeria’s biggest carrier, Air Peace, coincides with 60 years of diplomatic relations and friendship between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the State of Israel. It is worth noting that this is the first time a Nigerian airline has operated a direct flight to Israel, “ said the Ambassador of Israel to Nigeria, Shimon Ben-Shoshan.

Referring to the Chairman of Air Peace, he said, “Thank you so much for this cooperation with us. We will work together. During this operation I will work with you hand by hand. I can say that you are the darling of the Nigerian people but you are my hero. Thank you so much.”