Nigerians who are desperate to travel to long-haul destinations now go to Benin Republic and Equatorial Guinea to catch international flights.
Investigations by THISDAY reveal that these two countries did not close their borders because of coronavirus pandemic. Owing to this, THISDAY learnt that people travel by road to Cotonou in Benin and by boat to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to catch international flights to Europe and other destinations.
A reliable source who also travelled out of the country recently, told THISDAY that lots of Nigerians are in hotels in Cotonou waiting for their flights to different destinations and airlines like Air France, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopia Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Brussels Airlines, Tunisair, RwandAir, Air Burkina Faso still operate to the West African country.
In addition, THISDAY also learnt that the fare is relatively cheap compared to the flights that operate into Nigeria, dubbed evacuation flights.
Since the Nigerian airspace was closed to international flights on March 23, 2020 series of evacuation flights have been taking place and normally, fares to one-way flights are very expensive.
For instance, economy fares for evacuation could be as high as $1,800 for one-way flight out of Nigeria, but that is what a passenger in Benin Republic pays for business class return ticket to Europe.
For example, a Turkish Airlines flight ticket made available to THISDAY showed that the Cotonou-London flight; business class for return ticket was £1,863 with Cotonou-London slated for August 7, 2020 and London-Cotonou on October 25, 2020.
"Despite the rough road from Nigeria to Cotonou, many Nigerians are leaving the country to take advantage of these cheap fares and also some people were travelling to Malabo from Calabar by boat to also catch flight and travel overseas," the source revealed.
Although many consider leaving Nigeria by road or by boat as tortuous journey but THISDAY learnt that it is not only Nigerians that are embarking on the trip, even few expatriates who live or visited Nigeria who wished to leave the country are taking the routes as well.
Eyewitness account explained that initially some flights were getting approvals to fly to neigbouring countries from Nigeria, until the Nigerian government clamped down on the airlines.
"But under pressure the government of Benin Republic shut down the route for foreigners without visas and Nigerians so they went by boat to Malabo. When Benin saw the loss of business, they relaxed their requirements and business returned; so now while Nigeria screams of loss of revenue at the airports, Benin and Equatorial Guinea are earning the revenue," the source added.
Travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, while reacting to the development said that there is no time it was indicated that Nigerians abroad cannot come home, noting that air fares from neigbouring countries are cheap because a price of one way economy class to or from Nigeria could get a traveller return ticket for business class through Nigeria's neighbours.
"Government decision to close the airports is wise because we have not reached the peak in COVID-19 cases. Opening the airport for scheduled commercial flights will be Armageddon. Travellers will flood everywhere with fake COVID-19 certificates. So government is wisely reviewing the situation.
"It is true that evacuation is still taking place but travelling is very expensive so few people are travelling but when you open the airspace for commercial flights everybody will begin to travel. This will give rise to spike in coronavirus cases. Majority of the people travelling from Benin are Nigerians. From Benin they connect flights to destinations in countries that have not closed their borders," he said.