Barring any last minute change, all eyes are on the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 to announce the Federal Government’s placement of the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, Saudi Arabia, among others, on a red list, banning both airlines and their citizens from coming into Nigeria.
The action, which is to reciprocate the earlier ban on Nigerians, is the Federal Government’s way of protesting against blanket restriction on Nigerian citizens over the spread of Omicron variant of COVID-19.
This is coming after what seemed a week of wait, political tinkering and cautious study of events.
Last week, the government, in its immediate reaction through the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, Sarafa Ishola, rejected Nigeria’s placement on the red list, describing it as ‘travel apartheid’, but chairman of the PSC and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, had said the country won’t be hasty in taking any decisions as it was still reviewing the sanctions.
With increasing condemnation of the travel ban and growing calls for retaliation, The Guardian, yesterday, learnt that the Ministry of Aviation has already recommended to the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 the ban of UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Singapore for as long as they keep Nigeria on their red list. The Taskforce is due to make the announcement today.
Similarly, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has justified the reduction of Emirates Airlines’ Winter Schedule from 21 to one flight weekly. Sirika said it was in prompt response to United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) denial of three weekly slots requested by Nigerian flag carrier, Air Peace airline.
World airlines have faulted the UK and Canada, among others, over restriction of travellers, saying flight ban had proven incapable of preventing virus spread.
Following the detection of about 17 positive cases of Omicron variant among Nigerian passengers to the UK, the British government had placed an indefinite restriction on all Nigerian citizens, though it does not foreclose both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic from ferrying UK passengers to Nigeria. Canada, Singapore and Saudi Arabia also followed suit.
Sirika, in a notice to aviation professionals, yesterday, said it makes no sense for those countries to declare Nigeria a red zone with Nigerians unacceptable in their country, yet keep flying into Nigeria for economic reasons.
He said: “We have given our input (to Presidential Taskforce) as civil aviation and we have recommended that those countries should also be put on red list like they have done to us. If they don’t allow our citizens to come to their country, who are they coming as airlines to pick in our country?
“So, by Monday, all those countries will be on our red list, which means their airlines too are banned in Nigeria. I’m so sorry we are going through difficult moments but we have to do it in the interest of our country,” Sirika said