Civil Aviation

Nigeria’s President Tinubu Initiates Efforts to Resolve Diplomatic Spat with UAE’s Emirates Airlines

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Nigeria’s newly elected President, Bola Tinubu, has taken proactive measures to address an ongoing diplomatic disagreement between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) concerning the suspension of Nigerian visas in response to a financial dispute involving Emirates Airlines. The issue, which has persisted for some time, stems from the UAE’s suspension of flights due to withheld funds, leading to strained relations between the nations.

In a recent ceremony attended by foreign diplomats, including the newly appointed UAE Ambassador to Nigeria, Salem Saeed Al-Shamsi, President Tinubu expressed his commitment to resolving the impasse between the two countries. He emphasized the need to approach the matter as a family problem and suggested that both nations work collaboratively to find common ground on crucial aviation and immigration issues, according to a statement from the president’s spokesperson on Thursday (August 24, 2023).

“We are a family with the UAE. We only live in separate rooms, but we are in the same house. We should look at the issues as a family problem and resolve it amicably. As you know, in every family, there are peculiarities. You can have an erring son or daughter, but we must work together. We need to agree on core aviation and immigration issues,” Tinubu stated.

The UAE had halted the issuance of visas to Nigerian citizens following Emirates Airlines’ suspension of flights. This suspension was triggered by financial disputes over blocked funds held in Nigeria. The unavailability of these funds led to operational challenges for Emirates Airlines, rendering its Nigerian route unprofitable.

The situation took a positive turn as Al-Shamsi, the UAE Ambassador, stated that progress was being made toward a resolution. He characterized the issues as minor and believed that they could be resolved within a familial context.

President Tinubu’s actions align with his predecessor’s efforts to address the issue. Earlier this year, former President Muhammadu Buhari called for the resumption of Emirates Airlines’ Nigerian operations. He also directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to allocate more foreign currency to Emirates and other foreign airlines affected by the nation’s stringent foreign currency export controls.

The ongoing financial dispute between Emirates Airlines and Nigeria has seen fluctuations in flight operations. In 2022, Emirates initially suspended flights due to blocked funds, which were partially released after negotiations. However, the airline suspended flights again later in the year, citing unsuccessful negotiation attempts with Nigerian authorities. Emirates Airlines demanded the repatriation of a significant portion of its remaining frozen funds and a reliable mechanism to prevent future remittance delays.

By June 2023, Nigeria held the unfortunate distinction of topping the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) list of countries with the highest amount of withheld foreign exchange. The sum of USD 812.2 million placed Nigeria ahead of other countries such as Bangladesh, Algeria, Pakistan, and Lebanon.

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