•House investigates cancellation of visas granted 264 Nigerians by Saudi Arabia
Michael Olugbode and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Nigerian government has revealed that 18 of the 177 passengers who were turned back by Saudi authorities on landing in Jeddah were outrightly banned from Saudi Arabia for various offences committed in the past.
The revelation came just as the House of Representatives yesterday, launched an investigation into the immediate and remote circumstances surrounding the cancellation of already granted visas to 264 Nigerian on arrival at Jeddah aboard Air Peace.
However, the federal government said the reason for withdrawing the visa from the 159 others was yet unknown.
The revelation by the federal government was contained in a signed statement yesterday, by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Francisca Omayuli.
The statement read: “The attention of the federal government has been drawn to media reports on the cancellation of the visas and subsequent deportation of passengers airlifted from Nigeria on Sunday, 12th November, 2023 to Saudi Arabia.
“According to reports received from the Nigerian Consulate in Jeddah, Air Peace Flight No. P4-752 airlifted 264 passengers from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos and the Aminu Kano International Airport and landed at the King Abdulaziz International Airport – Hajj Terminal Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Monday, 13th November, 2023.
“It was on arrival at the Hajj Terminal that the Saudi Immigration authorities informed the passengers that their visas had been cancelled. Consequently, 177 passengers were made to return on the same flight back to Nigeria. While 87 passengers were cleared by immigration and allowed entry into Jeddah.
“The Saudi authorities are yet to give reasons for the cancellation of the visas, except for 18 of the passengers who were outrightly banned from Saudi Arabia for various offences committed in the past.
“Notwithstanding the fact that it is the prerogative of a sovereign nation to determine who is permitted entry into its territory, Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are traditional and strategic partners, who are willing to guard against a reoccurrence of this unfortunate incident.
“In this regard, investigation is ongoing in both Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. The affected passengers are therefore, implored to keep calm, while the matter is being resolved.”
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has launched an investigation into the matter.
The resolution of the House was sequel to the adoption of a motion moved at plenary yesterday, by Hon. Kama Nkemkanma, and four others.
Presenting the motion Nkemkanma recalled that Saudi Arabian authorities cancelled the visa of all the 264 passengers airlifted by Nigeria’s major carrier, Air Peace on arrival at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia from Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport on Monday, 13th November, 2023.
The lawmaker noted that all the passengers went through the Advanced Passengers Pre-screening System, (APPS), which was also monitored live by the Saudi Arabia authorities before the flight left Nigeria;
He expressed worry that the Nigerian Embassy in Jeddah, even the Saudi immigration personnel could not locate who authorised the cancellation of the visas, even when the APPS which was live between both countries was concluded and the airline was already airborne to Jeddah.
Nkemkanma, said upon the intervention of Nigerian Embassy in Saudi, the authorities were said to have reduced the number of passengers that would be returned back to Nigeria from 264 to 170;
He observed that Saudi Air had been operating directly from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia and that Air Peace had been receiving high patronage and as a Nigerian carrier since it started flight service to the Saudi at relatively lower fares, thereby helping Nigeria to conserve foreign exchange.
The lawmaker expressed concern that stakeholders in the sector have attributed the development to aero-politics, stating that it could be a way to force the Nigerian operator out of the route.
He said the stakeholders were of the views that Nigerian carriers could actually be forced out of the route unless the government intervenes, probably using the principle of reciprocity;
Nkemkanma, pointed out that the action of Saudi authorities was an infringement on the letters and intendments of the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia which is still in force;
He expressed worry that this unfortunate event and diplomatic slight on Nigeria happened even when the President Bola Tinubu is on a state visit to Saudi Arabia.
The House, therefore, condmned the embarrassing act of the cancellation of visas of 264 Nigerian on arrival at Saudi Arabia by the countries authorities on Monday, 13th November, 2023;
It urged the federal government of to as a matter of urgency take such diplomatic steps as might be necessary to protect the image of the nation, ensure the full implementation of the BASA, protect Nigerian national Carriers flying into Saudi Arabia and as well protect the Nigerian travelling public; and
It mandated the, “Committees on Foreign Affairs, Interior and Pilgrims Affairs to inquire into the immediate and remote circumstances surrounding the cancellation of already granted visas to 264 Nigerian on arrival at Jeddah aboard Air Peace and to report back within two weeks.”