Nigeria: Air Peace Chairman Speaks On Nigerians' Visa Ordeal in Saudi Arabia

Every year, Muslims from around the world go on Hajj and the lesser Hajj (Umrah) to Mecca, Saudi Arabia (file photo).
16 November 2023

The Sunday incident occurred barely two weeks after Air Peace launched a direct flight to Saudi Arabia.

Allen Onyeama, the chairman of Air Peace, has spoken on the ordeal of scores of Nigerians who were deported from Saudi Arabia at the point of entry on Sunday.

Mr Onyeama said Air Peace did not breach any rule of engagement in conveying the passengers to Saudi Arabia, adding that the airline got "approval and clearance of every procedure required of it before taking off from Nigeria."

PREMIUM TIMES reported that authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia cancelled the visa of more than 170 passengers who arrived in Jeddah from Nigeria on Air Peace.

The incident happened at a time President Bola Tinubu was attending the Saudi-Africa summit in Riyadh.

The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Nigeria said the travellers that were deported did not meet the entry conditions and requirements of its country. The embassy added that the passengers submitted incorrect information to obtain categories of visas they did not qualify for.

Mr Onyeama said Air Peace confirmed that all passengers' visas were valid before departing Nigeria.

"The visas were valid as of the time the airline was taking off," Mr Onyeama said, adding that they got "approval to fly the passengers through the Advanced Passenger Information System."

The Saudi Arabian embassy said they only discovered that the passengers gave incorrect information after they had arrived in Jeddah. "The discovery was made on their arrival. The Embassy would like to stress the importance of following the procedures and laws enacted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for all visitors," it said in a statement Wednesday.

Speaking with Channels TV on Thursday, Mr Onyeama said there are more issues that he would not want to discuss in the media because an investigation is ongoing.

"The Nigerian government said it's carrying out an investigation. So let's allow the investigation to take place," Mr Onyeama said.

"I don't want to dwell on this. I want decorum and good diplomacy to prevail in this whole thing. I want justice and fairness, that's all."

The Sunday incident occurred barely two weeks after Air Peace commenced a direct flight to Saudi Arabia. Some public commentators are saying that the whole issue is a sort of strategy to frustrate the Nigerian carrier out of the route.

Mr Onyeama declined to speak on the allegation but he said what happened was "really unusual because we followed every protocol. We are not in the business of issuing visas as an airline. Ours is to verify visas got clearance through the Advanced Passengers Information System (APIS) and we have done all that."

"But I also want to say something here, countries reserve the right to allow or deny anyone entry into its territory even after giving a visa."

"In this case, the Saudi Arabian embassy is not denying that the passengers had visas as of the time of leaving Nigeria. However, they are saying that they discovered that the passengers gave incorrect information in obtaining the visas," he said.

"By this information, the embassy is inadvertently exonerating Air Peace."

Mr Onyeama said Air Peace had no problems with the Saudi government. "We are very used to the Saudi air space. In fact, the Saudis didn't waste any time to give us all necessary permits to operate directly to the Kingdom."

"Saudi authorities have been very cooperative with air peace and they like the way we performed successfully during the Hajj season."

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