Aviation: Desperate Travellers Defy UAE/Nigeria Flight Regulations on COVID-19 Protocols, Travel to Dubai Through other West African Countries

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Many Nigerian air travellers have taken advantage of the diplomatic impasse between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Nigeria over COVID-19 protocols, as they now defy flight regulations emanating from both countries, THISDAY investigation has revealed.

THISDAY observed that many Nigerian air travellers now travel to UAE’s popular destination, Dubai through the airports in Accra, Ghana, Lome, Togo and Cotonou in Benin Republic.

The Nigerian travellers go through tortuous broken roads through Badagry to aforementioned cities where they then board Emirates Airlines flights to Dubai.

Besides those that fly to Emirates, THISDAY also learnt that there are Nigerians who travel to other destinations that Nigeria has stringent COVID-19 protocols, including South Africa.

READ: News: Relief as United Kingdom changes travel rules for fully vaccinated travellers from Nigeria

Earlier in the year, UAE had directed that Nigerians travelling to Dubai must undergo Rapid Antigen Tests (RTD) 24 hours before boarding their flights and UAE said that no other airline emanating flights from Nigeria should take Nigerian passengers to Dubai.

The obviously discriminatory policy was opposed by the federal government, which insisted that Emirates must abide by the Nigerian government’s protocol, which is that passengers must under go PCR (polymerase chain reaction) 72 hours before their flight.

THISDAY investigation revealed that everyday, hundreds of Nigerians travel through Accra, Cotonou and Lome and most of them board Emirates flights.

This was confirmed by the Director, Research, Zenith Travels Limited and the Assistant Secretary General, Aviation Round Table (ART), Olu Ohunayo, who told THISDAY that Nigerians travelling to those countries are those going to Dubai.
This, he stated, is because Emirates has not started their operation in Nigeria.

He explained that Nigerians travel through those routes to go, “and do things that are important in their lives, including business, education and health.”

READ: Africa: Air travellers to pay more for international tickets as travel agencies in Nigerian aviation sector receive mail increasing Exchange rate for Dollars

“What they have done now is how to circumvent COVID-19 protocols and directives of Emirates concerning the Lagos and Abuja routes. That’s why when they get into these countries they are having their passport entries stamped and backdated for them to get to Dubai to get whatever they want. I don’t think that there are people who are going for shopping among those that travel now; it is people who are travelling for things that affect their lives, such as business, health and education. You cannot stop people doing things that will improve their lives. That is why you see them paying the extra cost of travelling through the neighboring countries,” he said.

Ohunayo noted that some of those who travel that way include those who have Emirates tickets with them who know how difficult it is to get their money back from the airline and they cannot afford to buy new tickets so they are forced to use the tickets by re-routing the tickets through Cotonou, Accra or Lome.

He said that the travellers incur less expenses because airfare from Lagos is the highest in West Africa so even when they pay for re-routing the don’t spend much “because the fare in Lagos is higher than the fairs in the neighborhood, the owner of the tickets have nothing to lose. They travel by road to the city and pay for the protocols and immigration but the re-routing cost is insignificant because the cost of ticket in Lagos is higher than that of other routes.”

Explaining why Emirates flights were banned from Nigeria, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said recently that the federal government has no issue with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), rather against the preferential treatment of adopting double standards in the enforcement of its COVID-19 protocols for visitors, saying the government just decided to prevent Nigerians from travelling straight from the country to Dubai and other cities.

The Minister said the COVID-19 protocols set for Nigeria was not the same as what UAE announced for other nations despite the achievements Nigeria recorded in the fight against the virus.
According to him, investigations revealed that the protocols set for the country were different from the West African nations and this is the reason many Nigerians now travel through the country’s neighbours, Benin Republic and Ghana airports.

“Nigeria has no issue with Emirates, rather against the preferential treatment that UAE government gave to other countries aside from Nigeria. The UAE government allowed other countries, including Benin Republic and Ghana citizens to travel directly from their country to the commercial capital, Dubai, as against Nigerians,” he said.

However, the Managing Director of FinchglowTravels and former President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole Bernard, recently called on the federal government to loosen the COVID-19 protocols to enable more people to travel.

Speaking in line with the International Air Travel Association (IATA), Bernard said, “Nigeria should review its COVID-19 protocol. But when you close some routes that mean we (travel agents) are going to lose out on inventory. Some other people will capitalise on it. Government has discouraged Nigerians from enjoying their little summer. Because after you worked, you have saved up for your summer, you should be able to go. I don’t think it is fair; we have already broken the protocols in place, if you don’t have your negative COVID-19 tests. If you don’t pay for another COVID-19 test, you cannot come into the country. So before you even board the flight, all that has been done and uploaded. So I see no reason why they will think that it is going to come from outside again.”

Chinedu Eze

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