•Emirates, Etihad airlines to resume flights in, out of Nigeria
•UAE to invest several billion dollars in defence, agriculture sectors in Nigeria
•New forex liquidity programme between both countries to be unfolded in coming weeks
•Emirates News Agency mum on lifting of visa ban, flights’ resumption
Deji Elumoye, Michael Olugbode in Abuja and Funmi Ogundare in Lagos
President Bola Tinubu and his United Arab Emirates (UAE) counterpart, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met in Abu Dhabi, yesterday, and sealed a historic agreement, which resulted in the immediate cessation of a visa ban placed on Nigerian travellers by the UAE authorities.
By the agreement, both Etihad Airlines and Emirates Airlines were to resume flights into and out of Nigeria without delay. These were disclosed in a statement by Tinubu’s spokesperson, Ajuri Ngelale.
But, in a statement on its website on the diplomatic meeting, Emirates News Agency, UAE’s official news agency, did not mention anything about the lifting of visa ban on Nigerians as well as flight resumption. The agency only noted that the UAE president and Tinubu explored opportunities for further bilateral collaboration in areas that served both countries’ sustainable economic growth, including the economic, development, energy, and climate action fields.
Emirates News Agency stated, “The two sides also exchanged views on a number of regional and international developments of interest. The meeting discussed the upcoming COP28 climate conference set to take place in the UAE later this year, with both parties stressing the vital importance of encouraging and enabling international cooperation to tackle global issues, including climate change.”
UAE had in October 2023 banned nationals of some 20 African countries, including Nigeria, from entering its city, Dubai. In a notice issued to trade partners, including travel agents, the UAE authorities had directed that all applications should be rejected from Nigeria and the aforementioned countries.
Last December, also, Emirates Airlines had suspended flight operations to Nigeria over its inability to repatriate blocked funds, which was then estimated at $85 million. Etihad Airlines had also stopped flights to Nigeria.
The sour relations between both countries had earlier seen Emirates Airlines suspending its operations to Nigeria on December 13, 2021, in reaction to Nigeria’s federal government’s withdrawal of the carrier’s flight frequencies, except one, to Nigeria. The UAE was the first to reduce Air Peace request for three weekly flights to one, and had claimed it did not have enough slots for the airline.
Emirates had said it would discontinue flight service to Nigeria until both countries reached amicable resolution on the matter.
However, the statement by Ngelale, yesterday, explained that following negotiation between Tinubu and the UAE leader, there would be immediate restoration of flight activity through the two airlines between both countries. But this did not involve any immediate payment by the Nigerian government, the statement said.
According to the presidential spokesman, in recognition of Tinubu’s economic development diplomacy drive and proposals presented by the president to his UAE counterpart, an agreed framework was established, which would involve several billions of United States dollars’ worth of new investments in the Nigerian economy across multiple sectors, including defence, agriculture, and others, by the investment arms of the government of UAE.
In addition, the statement revealed that Tinubu successfully negotiated a joint new foreign exchange (forex) liquidity programme between the two governments, details of which would be announced in the coming weeks.
Tinubu also commended the UAE president for his friendship and determined effort to join hands with him to fully normalise and reset to excellence relations between the two frontline nations.
Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, had explained during the diplomatic rift that NCAA withdrew the approval to Emirates to operate 21 flights to Nigeria following the refusal of the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of UAE to grant equal rights to the sole Nigerian carrier, Air Peace, flying to Dubai via Sharjah.
Nuhu stated that the then Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had graciously granted Emirates Airlines 21 frequencies weekly to two major airports in Nigeria; Lagos, 14, and Abuja, seven.
On the other hand, when it withdrew its service to Nigeria, the Middle East mega carrier had said, “Emirates is committed to its operations in Nigeria, and we stand ready to reinstate services once restrictions are lifted by the Nigerian authorities, ensuring travellers have more choice and access to trade and tourism opportunities in Dubai, and beyond to our network of over 120 destinations.”
Etihad Airlines, in solidarity with Emirates, had also suspended all their flights to and from Nigeria since December 2021.
But speaking in a programme monitored on Channels Television yesterday, Ngelale further clarified that Nigeria and UAE were working on an FX liquidity programme that both countries agreed on. He explained that the visit of Tinubu to UAE added a new dimension to the relationship between the two countries.
According to him, “So it is true that we have normalised relationship and bilateral relations, but to say that is all, has not quite done justice to it.
“What happened today is to add new dimensions to the relations and partnerships that are mutually beneficial to both nations. I think as we move forward, the details of the FX liquidity programme that both countries agreed to will become clear.
“They are still crossing the I’s and dotting the T’s between respective ministers of both countries, as well as the national security advisers of both countries as we formalise more minute details of the agreement.”
Ngelale stated that the president had been able to reconfigure and reform the economy through aggressive attraction of foreign direct investment dealings with heads of state around the world and linking business communities together in a way that will inject new life into the country’s economy.
“These things are worked out through a consultative process that involves multiple levels of government that work simultaneously,” Ngelale stated. He commended those who had participated in restoring the diplomatic ties between the two countries, saying that it is historic.
“Definitely, the diplomatic ability of President Tinubu and the clarity of his vision to be able to restore diplomatic ties and add new dimensions to the mutually beneficial relationship is something that I think Nigerians can appreciate,” he said.
Ngelale added, “President Tinubu has gone to India and in two days, secured $14 billion worth of investment pledges, which we read out in details; what companies and sectors are involved and how it’s going to impact the Nigerian economy; and within 24 hours, he arrives the UAE and secured a landmark deal that moves all sorts of multi-sectoral encumbrances out of the relationship and adds new dimensions across multiple sectors of the economy. We just haven’t seen this before.
“What we are saying is that we are going to be open to our people and tell them what is going on and how it’s going to interest and benefit them and the economy.”
Reacting to the development, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) applauded Tinubu’s swift intervention that resulted in the lifting of the visa ban on Nigerians and resumption of Etihad and Emirates airlines flights into the country.
Chairman/CEO of NIDCOM, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, in a statement signed by Head of Media and Public Relations at the commission, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, said with the diplomatic achievement, Nigerians working in UAE, who could not have their work permits renewed, could heave a sigh of relief.
The NIDCOM boss said the intervention would usher in a new era of collaboration and friendship between the two nations. She said besides the lifting of ban and resumption of flights into Nigeria, the bilateral parley also laid a robust foundation for substantial investments in various sectors in Nigeria.
Dabiri-Erewa, who said she had been bombarded with calls from excited Nigerians living in the UAE, urged them to continue to be good ambassadors of the country.