By Chinedu Eze
Nigeria’s biggest carrier, Air Peace, has evacuated about 274 Israelis from Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja to Israel.
Israel said it evacuated its citizens because of fears of the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
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, Mr. Allen Onyema, described the flight as historical because it was the first time Nigeria and Israel would have a direct flight and expressed hope that subsequently the two countries would have scheduled direct flights between Lagos and Tel-Aviv.
He said: “It is a historic day for both Nigeria and Israel. History has been made today. Sixty 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 portends greater things to 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 tape 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.”
According to him, the Israeli government supported and allowed for the first time a Nigerian airline to operate a 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 for it. We have to build from here now going forward.
“This COVID-19 storm will be over someday. When it is over, we look forward to doing 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,” he added.
The Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Shimon Ben-Shoshan, expressed happiness for the successful evacuation of his compatriots from Nigeria and commended Onyema for his invaluable contribution in making the airlift possible.
“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,” Ben-Shoshan said.