The diplomatic spat between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) erupted again yesterday, with UAE authorities purportedly ‘barring’ other airlines from transporting Nigerians.
This comes as both countries begin to calculate their losses as a result of the federal government’s restrictions on Emirates, the UAE’s national carrier.
The government enforced the limitations on the airline through the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), reducing its frequency from 21 to one weekly in retribution for denying Air Peace, a Nigerian carrier, three slots at Sharjah Airport.
Emirates would only fly to Nigeria once a week on Thursdays, according to NCAA Director-General Capt. Musa Nuhu.
However, in reaction to the limitations, the airline promptly halted all flights to and from Nigeria, pending the resolution of the bilateral difficulties.
As of yesterday, the two countries were yet to meet at the negotiating table to resolve the lingering diplomatic tensions that erupted only two weeks after they had resolved previous differences.
The UAE has apparently prevented other airlines from taking Nigerian passport holders, with some travellers being turned back on Ethiopian Airlines yesterday.
According to the Daily Trust, this was the first time in a long time that Nigeria used the principle of reciprocity included in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement to impose significant limitations on a foreign carrier (BASA).
As the dispute continues, both countries are tallying their losses, particularly stakeholders, service providers, and those whose businesses are linked to Nigeria-UAE-Nigeria airline operations in both countries.
The Dubai route is one of Nigeria’s most popular business and vacation destinations, with weekly passenger traffic estimated at 10,000 people, with Emirates accounting for the majority of the traffic.
On a daily basis, Emirates alone transports about 900 people from Dubai (about 300 in each of its arrivals in Lagos and Abuja on its A380 aircraft), with other airlines contributing additional passengers via connecting flights.
Qatar Airways, Egypt Air, Ethiopian Carriers, and RwandAir are among the other airlines that fly from Nigeria to Dubai.
With an average ticket price of N300,000, the airline would lose close to N270 million, or $650,000, or 2.5 million UAE dirham every week just from ticket sales.
If the current dispute continues for another month, the airline will lose almost N1.8 billion.
This also means that the federal government will lose a significant amount of money in terms of the fees that must be paid on each flight.
The airline pays the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) $100 in passenger service fee (PSC), $20 in security charge, and 5% in passenger service charge for overseas travel.
On Emirates’ three daily flights alone, this equates to a loss of $90,000, or N36.9 million, due as PSC.
In addition, Air Peace, the only Nigerian carrier flying to Dubai via Sharjah, is counting the losses from the approximately 1,200 passengers it transports to Dubai on its three weekly flights, which the UAE has yet to restore.
Due to the busy nature of the UAE, if other airlines were prevented from bringing Nigerian customers to Dubai, it is projected that all airlines would lose millions of dollars on a daily basis.
The Dubai Embassy in Nigeria confirmed in 2019 that 100,000 Nigerians travel to Dubai each year for tourism, education, medical tourism, and business.
The two countries’ commerce turnover is projected to be around $1.5 billion, with roughly 30 flights each week between UAE and Nigerian carriers.
According to Daily Trust’s research, hotels would be losing daily revenue from airline crew accommodations as a result of the impasse.
An international flight, for example, has an average of 13 to 16 cabin crew members.
While one set of crew members arrives with a flight, the next flight is taken over by another set of crew members who have already checked into one of the destination country’s five-star hotels.
In addition, hotel rooms cost an average of $262 per night (N107,000 at the official exchange rate).
This means that a five-star hotel in Nigeria that accommodates a flight crew may lose around N1.4 million per day on a 13-man flight crew.
Mrs. Susan Akporiaye, President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), commented on the incident, saying it is a tremendous loss for both countries.
However, she stated that the group believes the UAE should do the right thing by awarding Air Peace the sought slots, as well as restoring the Emirates frequencies.
She said, “Of course there will be losses; losses on both sides. There is a massive loss also on UAE, not Nigeria alone. It is just that they don’t want to admit it. Even the travel agencies, we are losing and there are losses on businesses and all but then it is the closure of the airports. It is not a total lockdown like we experienced last year.
“So people will still fly, go to African countries. South African Airlines resumed yesterday. Egypt is there, Rwanda, beautiful place, Seychelle, Maldives, and many other countries are there as well. Even the US is still open, the US is not closed and Europe is open as well.”
Akporiaye further revealed that passengers heading for Dubai were prevented from flying on Ethiopian Airlines yesterday, despite the fact that passengers bound for Dubai flew on other airlines such as Qatar and Egypt Air.
“Maybe it is only the Ethiopian Airline that was affected, we don’t know yet. We are waiting to see, because immediately I heard about what is happening, I reached out to other airlines and they said they didn’t get any notice and that their flights flew. They promised to get back to me if anything changes.
“As of this morning, Ethiopian airlines got their own notice, we don’t know exactly what is going on but they promised to send me a notice so we will wait till tomorrow. If by tomorrow those airlines still flew then that means it is a problem with only Ethiopian Airlines.”
Akporiaye asked the UAE authorities to grant Air Peace’s request in order to resolve the stalemate.
“Let them do what we want. Let them give Air Peace the three slots that they asked for and we will give them back their 21, that is fine. It is very simple actually, let them just do the right thing. It is the normal and moral thing to do,” she added.
When contacted yesterday on the alleged ban on Nigerians in UAE, the Director of Press Affairs in the Ministry of Aviation, Dr. James Odaudu, said he had called the attention of the minister to it.
Asked about the losses to the country, he said, “I don’t see how we can be at the losing end. These are people who are saying Nigerians should not come into their country. If you say we should not come into your country and you want to keep flying to our country, who are you coming to pick?
A former spokesman of the defunct Nigerian Airways, Mr. Chris Aligbe, in an interview with our correspondent asked Nigeria to stand its ground irrespective of the action of the UAE government.
“The fact of the matter is that the UAE has a right to decide whatever they want to decide. Whatever they decide with other airlines, I am not bothered about it. It is what they decide about Nigeria that I am bothered about.
“If they take a decision about us and make it impossible for us to operate, then we should respond, that is my position,” he said.
Foreign Affairs is currently conducting consultations.
The federal government has stated that talks to resolve the lingering diplomatic dispute between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are ongoing.
Esther Susunwa, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, revealed this in an interview with the Daily Trust on Monday.
“I cannot answer for the aviation ministry,” she added when asked if the decision taken by the aviation minister was within the bounds of diplomatic law.
Don’t be surprised if countries push for self-interest.
However, Abdullahi Liman, a professor of international relations at Nasarawa State University’s Department of Political Science and International Relations, believes that both Nigeria’s and the UAE’s decisions are correct as long as they are in the national interest.
“The decision of the Nigerian Aviation minister to ban UAE airlines is not about wrong or right, it’s about national interest, and you should know that countries have an agenda in every decision that they take, which to me is normal.
“They have an agenda that they are pursuing and at a point in time, they take action that will trigger reaction, so we shouldn’t waste our time thinking about wrong or right, it’s the national interest that dictates everything.
“So, to me, what the UAE did was right and what our minister has done is equally right, and it’s the kind of leadership that Nigeria lacked for a very long time; somebody that will stamp his feet on the ground and stood by the national interest.
“Nigeria has faced so much humiliation in the past; even inferior nation states have been confronting Nigeria without much action. Successive administrations have done their best in protecting the national interest.”
He said the whole issue is about “national interest” but is Nigeria really ready to use the two options that dictate the fate and direction of the national interest? The two interests are holding a carrot on the right hand, and stick on the left hand. Any nation that goes along with us can take the carrot and eat, and if you are not with us we can now apply the big stick.
“In a nutshell, the economic benefits between Nigeria and UAE are complementary; we both need each other, so we will not sit down and take every sh-t from nations that equally benefit from us.
“So, what the minister of aviation did is very right, and we will just dwell on this terrain, and to me, this will not extend to the general function because it has not affected the entire diplomatic relationship.
“Our only problem is that we are respecting these people too much. I’m being very frank. It is good we push back when their excesses are becoming too much,” he said.