Nigeria-UAE Travel Face-Off - Who Blinks First?

It all started when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) alleged that some Nigerian travellers to Dubai or passing through it in transit were presenting fake COVID-19 test results.

Following the gradual resumption of regular international flights after the COVID-19-triggered disruption, a negative COVID-19 test result was made compulsory for international travels among other preventive measures aimed at containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Whether or not the UAE authorities had alerted their Nigerian counterparts over the fake COVID-19 test results, they unilaterally introduced an additional rapid test to all UAE-bound travellers from Nigeria before boarding and recognised its result regardless of any COVID-19 test result a traveller would present.

Also, to ensure full control over the enforcement of the measure, and taking advantage of the Emirates monopoly of the Nigeria-Dubai direct flight route, the UAE banned all non-direct flights from Nigeria to Dubai thereby expanding the monopoly in the absence of any Nigerian competitor. Other airlines e.g. Egyptair and Ethiopian Airlines, which have to transit Cairo and Addis Ababa respectively before flying into Dubai were thus effectively excluded.

With thousands of Nigerians travelling to Dubai or transiting it to catch connecting flights to their respective destinations in Europe, Australasia, the wider Asia and the Americas, the Nigeria-Dubai flight route is one of the lucrative routes for the Emirates.

Anyway, the Nigerian authorities kicked against the UAE's unilateral measures. The UAE reacted by suspending all flights from Nigeria until, initially, the 28th February 2021, and banned travellers "who have been to or connected through Nigeria in the last 14 days" from visiting the UAE.

Though talks ensued between the two parties, they couldn't resolve the issue as the face-off escalated with the UAE extending the ban to March 10 initially then to the 20th. However, when it appeared that the UAE authorities may not lift the suspension a few days to the date, the Nigerian authorities reacted by banning the Emirates passenger operations in Nigeria, which prompted the UAE's indefinite suspension of all flights from Nigeria. This is regardless of its implications on the Emirates struggle to recover from the huge losses it, like other airlines, has incurred as a result of the international flight disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, as things stand, Nigeria is equally incurring significant revenue losses, because the Nigeria-Dubai route and the Emirates are among the highest revenue-fetching sources for the government and other stakeholders in the aviation industry.

Meanwhile, many people with various interests to pursue in the UAE have been rendered stranded. Interestingly, some folks desperate to travel to Dubai from Nigeria go to the extent of smuggling themselves into Ghana to avoid having their passports stamped with the Nigerian "exist" stamp. While in Ghana, they pay some unscrupulous individuals who somehow get their passports stamped with backdated forged Nigerian "exist" and Ghanaian "entry" stamps to indicate that they left Nigeria more than 14 days ago and are therefore eligible to travel to Dubai.

Anyway, though Nigeria as a sovereign country has the right to reject the UAE's unilateral introduction of the additional rapid COVID-19 test on UAE-bound travellers from Nigeria, it should look at the UAE's allegation of the fake negative COVID-19 test results.

After all, to be fair, it's an open secret that since the introduction of a negative COVID-19 test result as a requirement for international travels, the "business" of arranging forged negative test results has thrived in Abuja and Lagos. International travellers who either don't want to experience the "stress" of going for the test, or are COVID-19 positive, or simply feel too important to be tested, part with a fortune to get laboratory-issued and genuine-looking forged negative COVID-19 test results. And with the connivance of some unscrupulous government personnel at Abuja and Lagos airports, they get cleared to travel.

However, the UAE's unilateral introduction of an additional quick test on all Dubai-bound travellers from Nigeria has effectively ended that "business" at least on the Nigeria-Dubai route, which, of course, angered the beneficiaries.

Now, the longer this face-off persists, the more it undermines the struggles of the aviation industry in both countries to recover from the unprecedented losses over the last year due to the COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions.

Its persistence may even affect diplomatic relations between Abuja and Abu Dhabi in a time when the former needs the latter's maximum cooperation in tackling the activities of some subversive Nigerian syndicates with their foreign collaborators engaged in facilitating Boko Haram financing, money-laundering and other financial crimes, through Dubai.

It's, therefore, in the interest of both countries to resolve this face-off through reciprocal compromise. The Nigerian government should stop feigning ignorance or denying the fact that fake negative COVID-19 results are being issued to willing outbound travellers from Nigeria, for a fortune. It should simply stop that practice and make the process of obtaining the result too transparent to be manipulated.

However, the UAE shouldn't have unilaterally introduced the controversial additional quick COVID-19 test in Nigeria in the first place; it should have done that in coordination with relevant Nigerian authorities.

Relevant authorities in both countries should address the issue bilaterally to resolve this unnecessarily persistent travel face-off.

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