There is urgent need for both countries to normalise relationships, writes Samson Osagie
The outbreak of the Corona Virus Pandemic is not only affecting the health of citizens across the globe, its impact on the relationships among some nations is beginning to tell on the fate of some nationals in order spheres.
Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates(UAE) have had a positive diplomatic relations particularly from 2009 when UAE established its embassy in Nigeria. Abuja followed by a visit to UAE by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 as a first country of visit in Asia and Middle East upon his assumption of office as President of Nigeria.
By December 2020 a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was executed to provide a platform for both countries to engage each other bilaterally in many areas – legal, commercial, etc.
The UAE celebrated the growing cooperation with Nigeria at its 49th anniversary in Abuja. The UAE Ambassador to Nigeria did say on that occasion that he was excited about the growing bilateral relations between the two countries across all sectors. According to him “Today marks the importance of unity and coming together to celebrate our achievements in 2020 even though it has proved to be challenging for many reasons… This relationship is nurtured, developed and reinforced by the wise leadership of both friendly nations who have continued to forge strategic partnerships for prosperity of both countries. As at 2019, the total volume of oil bilateral trade between Nigeria and UAE stood at $1.4 billion, but as at December 1, alongside with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama, on behalf of our respective governments signed an MoU for the establishment of a Joint Commission for Cooperation”. This was the testimony of the UAE highest official in Nigeria.
Understandably, it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship amongst the two countries in both trade and tourism relations with no major setbacks for over a decade.
However, recent events are beginning to cast some doubt on the continuity of the diplomatic relations between the two countries. As at March 2021, the UAE had declared Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa as it commenced a series of trade and investment promotion activities aimed at bolstering the bilateral trade and investment volume between Nigeria and UAE.
Earlier in 2020 at the outset of the global lock down due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the UAE national carrier Emirates airline had shut down flights to and from Nigeria owing to disagreement between the airline and the Nigerian aviation authorities on the propriety of subjecting passengers traveling from Nigeria to certain Covid-19 protocols upon arrival in Dubai. While the Federal government through the Ministry of Aviation stipulated a negative PCR test, the UAE authorities introduced additional rapid antigen test for passengers, a development that Nigeria government frowned at and resisted, thus resulting in suspension of the airline from flying to and from Nigeria. This has resulted in huge losses for the airline and travel agencies’ business for both countries.
Nigerians, very adventurous people, who desire to visit Dubai for their usual holidays, shopping and medical tourism had to use alternative airlines like Kenyan Airways or go through Cotonou, Accra or other West Africa countries. Even when they take such a detour they would have to be quarantined in Dubai for a minimum of 14 days upon arrival in Dubai. It is such a grueling experience for our nationals on the Dubai route and this has created a lot of discomfort for many travellers, with aviation practitioners proposing a diplomatic resolution between the two countries.
Speaking on the state of affairs about the suspension of the Emirates airline flight Comrade Olayinka Abioye, former Secretary General of the National Union of Air Transport Employees(NUATE) said both countries must come to use diplomacy to resolve the impasse. I cannot agree less with him.
In the midst of all of these, I stumbled recently on a news item which I understand has been running for some time now about how Nigerians in different parts of the UAE are losing their jobs in their hundreds on account of the refusal of the authorities to renew their work permits. I was jolted and seriously alarmed considering the fact that at the moment returning home for these Nigerians cannot be an option at all.
I decided to put a call through to a friend who is a railway staff in Dubai to ascertain the true situation of things and his response was as shocking as he sounded.
From the confirmed news report no fewer than 500 Nigerians have lost their jobs in UAE with many more whose working permits or visas are approaching different times for expiration. I also understand that the Chairman of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa had taken steps to address the problem with the UAE Ambassador to Nigeria. As it is the usual case, the diplomat appears to feign ignorance of the treatment of Nigerian nationals in his country. According to him “we are yet to get the report of Nigerians losing jobs in our country but certainly if it is the case, steps will be taken to address the problem”
Now here is my worry. The coincidence of the refusal of the authorities of the United Arab Emirates to renew working permits for legally resident Nigerians and the suspension of flights of the national carrier of the country is suspect. It appears to be a calculated strategem of the UAE authorities to pressure the Nigerian government into accepting their conditions of service for their national airline that may have lost humongous revenue from the Nigeria route since the beginning of the impasse. It cannot be less than a reprisal of some sort.
It is therefore important for the Nigerian government to swiftly engage the Arabian country in the interest of thousands of Nigerians living and working in the country to save their jobs and means of livelihood.
Refusing to renew the working permits of the nationals of a given country is the highest level of discrimination and such act offends International Conventions and the spirit of the bilateral /multilateral agreements which both nations are signatories to. In the absence of any malfeasance or criminal conduct, it is submitted that if a resident has fulfilled all the necessary conditions to live and work in a country other than his country of origin its is within his or her right in the eye of International human rights law to have his permit renewed. If there are specific cases of criminal conduct of any Nigerian citizens, such should be dealt with on its own merit or otherwise rather than subjecting every Nigerian to hardships.
What is more intriguing and saddening about the conditions Nigerians are currently facing in the United Arab Emirates now is that, that country is perhaps one of the destinations of looted funds from Nigeria owing to the tremendous investment in real estate and other businesses some unpatriotic Nigerians have done in that economy. It is indeed an eye opener. Such investments would probably have generated more jobs for Nigerians back home if they were made here and the environment conducive enough to guarantee adequate return on investment.
By and large, we owe our citizens the abiding responsibility anywhere they are in the world to intervene for them particularly in circumstances where they are being discriminated against or treated poorly on account of their country of origin.
In the final analysis, talks between the two nations need to resume in earnest in order to resuscitate what might result in a full blown diplomatic row.
Dr Osagie is a Lawyer based in Abuja