Africa: The UAE/Air Peace Aviation Impasse-Why Dubai Should Not Die On The Nigerian Hill.

UAE Emir peace

The ongoing ‘Gbas Gbos’ (Rough Play) between Nigeria and UAE is a needless fight. UAE can never come out unscathed. I interchangeably use Dubai and UAE in this write up because to Nigerians they are one and the same. But UAE is the Country and the Dubai is just the Emirate of choice out of the 7 Emirates.
They have too much to lose getting involved in a mud fight. Those sparkling White Dresses of theirs will change colour.

They are a small nation that has played the global game so well that they have leveraged themselves to a Global Geopolitical Power Player. Their escapades in the Libyan Civil War, Yemen Civil War and Now Ethiopian Civil War is well Known.

emirates UAE aviation routes

They have used their wealth and Focused Leadership to grow Clout so Much So that they hosted a Dubai -African Meeting and African Heads of States Attended. Even President Buhari was in Dubai Last Week for the Dubai World Expo 2020.

READ: Africa: Nigeria, Emirates Aviation row gets messier, as Middle East Carrier suspends all flight to the country, Nigeria CAA gives reasons for reducing its frequency

Once a Dubai Royal was embarrassed in Kenya and they took their pound of flesh from Kenyans in Dubai. But Nigeria is a different Kettle of Fish. There is so much to lose dying on the Mountain of Nigerian Pride.

Billions of Nigerian wealth is stashed in Dubai making Nigerians a major Foreign Direct Investors in Dubai.
Dubai Tourism attracted 29% of all Nigerian International Air Travellers in 2019. These are huge numbers that you do not trifle with.

The UAE Nigeria Aviation impasse started with a letter in February from Dubai Airport, DXB, giving Nigerian Travellers new conditions to travel to Dubai. Nigerian Government rejected the conditions and stopped Emirates from flying into Nigeria. It degenerated to the point that Nigerians were barred from entering UAE and Nigerians living and working in Dubai had their papers not renewed. Then things were sorted out and Emirates were given their 21 frequencies back and they started 14 weekly flights to Lagos and Abuja on the 5th of December.

READ: Africa: Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority cancels Emirates Airline Daily Flights to Lagos and restricts them to Abuja as it Withdraws Approval of Winter Schedule

But UAE gave Air Peace only one weekly flight on a Thursday at a time to be decided by Sharjah Airport. Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority thereafter cancelled the earlier approval given to Emirates and restricted them to only one frequency a week to Abuja. Emirates then withdrew their flights to Nigeria. Then the “Gbas Gbos” started.

The Air Peace traffic right angle was where the gods turned against Dubai. For the first time in Nigeria since 2015, UAE unified the whole of Nigeria behind Air Peace and the Minister of Aviation.

Suddenly all critics of the Nigerian Government joined in the praise of the Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika.
UAE has found themselves in an unviable position. Having 200 Million Nigerians unified against you. That has never happened in this Government. Suddenly a much maligned government has found a sweet spot.

Let me share a small story then I will give some advice.
Capt. Cook was a legendary Mapmaker and an adventurer. When he arrived Hawaii the season for the Hawaiians was that of Celebrations.

They welcomed him and feted him. He left but his Mast Broke and he returned to the same place. The seasons has changed the War God was in control. The people were hostile. He tried to enforce his will, pulled his gun and shot and got killed in the skirmish. Same place, same people, same man but different climate led to a different outcome.

Nigerian Governments do not usually support Nigerian Airlines in Aeropolitics. Since Stella Oduah was asked by President Jonathan to back off in her fight with BA over Arik, we have seen Medview Airlines slaughtered by UK Airport and Government policy. The British PM called the Nigerian President, Jonathan to intervene then with the Aviation Minister Stella Oduah.

Arik, Medview and Virgin Nigeria had been victims of Aeropolitics against Nigerian Airlines. Air Peace had repeatedly complained about Togo and Abidjan to no avail but this time against an unlikely target, UAE the Government comes to their rescue.

Now the link to Captain Cook. How the weather turned against UAE.

The Aviation Minister has been in hot soup last Month with his attempt to deliver Nigerian Air, Airport Concessioning, Air Leasing Company and the MRO. The industry professionals had rubbished his plan as self-serving and dead on arrival. They claimed that his only achievements in 6 years are the Abuja and Enugu runways. They called him a brick and mortar Minister. He needed a quick win and UAE delivered that to him in a big way.

Suddenly the same Professionals are rooting for him now as a saviour from the wrongly negotiated BASA agreements. They want all BASA agreements repudiated and new agreements to tie slots and frequencies. “If you do not Give us Slots you cannot implement your Frequency into Nigeria.”

Air Peace the week before was attacked by people in the South East as being Anti-Igbo. Chief Allen Onyema is an Igbo from the South East of Nigeria. Some of the Igbos who support the secessionist group IPOB has had a long running battle of wits with the current administration. They have successfully waged a weekly Sit at Home Campaign every Monday in the South East of Nigeria.

Their capacity to boycott Air Peace is not in doubt. The allegation is that Air Peace is very expensive flying to the East but comparatively cheaper going to the North of Nigeria.

Chief Allen had to personally explain the Air Peace fare structure that creates the seeming disparity. While these videos were being launched against him by Igbos, the northerners had to come to his support.

They claimed that his brothers, the Igbos were attacking him because he is Pan Nigerian and speaks well of the President and the Government.

The UAE impasse gave the Nigerian Government an opportunity to reward him and protect him. So the climate worked favourably for him.

UAE does not need to win this battle or War with Nigeria. Dubai can be replaced as a Tourism Destination for Nigerians in 16 months. If Dubai becomes the Nigerian pet hate the numbers will tank.

In 2010 over 100,000 Nigerians visited South Africa. If the Visa to South Africa is easy like Dubai and there is no perceived hostility to Nigerians, South Africa would have been drawing over 300,000 annual visitors from Nigeria.

But in 2019 the Nigerian numbers were down to less than 50,000 Nigerians. In the months of April to August 2021, the visa application to Egypt from Nigeria increased by 300%. Dubai can be replaced once Nigerians conclude Dubai is a hostile territory for entertainment, shopping, health and business.

Let calm heads prevail. UAE is still an aspiring super power but Nigeria is way beyond their league in mud fighting. They have other things doing like going to planet Mars and building very tall buildings.

They should forget this Hill. It is a messy place full of bones of past visitors. They should pull back completely and re-engage as friends. That is what great nations do, no matter how smart they cut it, they would not Win on this Hill. We all Love Dubai but we are Nigerians so ‘we fit Change am’ anytime.

By Ikechi Uko

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