Nigeria: Aviation Minister, Predecessor Clash Over Emirates' Return to Nigeria

The former aviation minister, Osita Chidoka, said the Emirate's return to Nigeria is a reminder of the deepening lack of Nigeria's "national pride" in the world

Nigeria's Aviation Minister, Festus Keyamo, and one of his predecessors, Osita Chidoka, took to social media on Wednesday to trade words over the return of Emirates Airlines flight to Nigeria.

Last week, Emirates Airlines announced that it would resume flight services to Nigeria on 1 October; after over a year, it suspended operations there due to difficulties in repatriating trapped funds.

Following the announcement, on Wednesday, Mr Chidoka, a chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a statement posted on his official X page, criticised the federal government and the airline's imminent return to the Nigerian airspace.

According to the statement titled; "No to The Return of Emirates Airlines to Nigeria ", Mr Chidoka ascribed the airline's return to Nigeria as a reminder of the deepening lack of "national pride" and the growing irrelevance of Nigeria in the world.

"The gleeful announcement of the return of Emirates Airline to Nigeria by the Hon. Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, SAN, on X is a sad reminder of the deepening lack of national pride and the growing irrelevance of Nigeria in the world," the former minister wrote.

He said the audacity of Emirates Airlines to even consider returning to Nigeria "reeks of contempt and disdain towards our nation" and that the actions of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government and their airline, Emirates, from the unwarranted visa ban on all Nigerians to the suspension of flights, have been nothing short of a blatant attack on the dignity of Nigerians.


In November 2022, Emirates suspended flights to Nigeria. It said the measure started on 29 October 2022 and blamed it on its inability to repatriate revenue from the country.

At the time, the airline said it had communicated its position to the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

"Under these extraordinary circumstances, Emirates had no option but to suspend flights to/from Nigeria from 29 October 2022 to mitigate against further losses moving forward," the airline management said.

At the time, Emirates lamented that it had not repatriated its blocked funds from the country amidst lingering scarcity of forex in the country.

"Without the timely repatriation of the funds and a mechanism in place to ensure that future repatriation of Emirates' funds does not accumulate in any way, the backlog will continue to grow, and we simply cannot meet our operational costs nor maintain the commercial viability of our operations in Nigeria," the airline said.

In March, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced that the government had cleared all 'valid' foreign exchange backlogs.

"Our sovereignty is not for sale."

Mr Chidoka, who served as Nigeria's Aviation minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan, recalled that during his time in office, Emirates Airlines enjoyed an unprecedented two slots to Lagos and one slot to Abuja granted by my predecessor and sustained over the years.

"This gesture showed Nigeria's desire to forge close relationships and build regional alliances in the Gulf," the statement said.

Mr Chidoka claimed that when Nigeria faced economic challenges, Emirates "shamelessly abandoned" the country's airspace while other airlines stood by us.

"Emirates Airlines, arguably the wealthiest airline in the world, was the only airline that suspended operations," Mr Chidoka added.

He said, "All the African and European Airlines, equally owned by the Nigerian government, continued operating and weathered the storm with us as a people--a remarkable show of solidarity and a vote of confidence on a market they had enjoyed for decades."

Additionally, the former minister noted that Emirates Airlines, like UAE's Mubadala, the principal investor in Etisalat Nigeria, fled at the first sign of trouble, leaving Nigerians stranded and insulted by their mean behaviour.

"They did not just walk away. The UAE government imposed an egregious visa ban on all Nigerians," Mr Chidoka said, noting that the imposition of a visa ban on all Nigerians is an unwarranted and vile display of aggression and dehumanisation of Nigerians.

Based on this, the former Minister urged Nigerians to say no to the unjustified stigmatisation and degradation of Nigerians, almost akin to the ghettos of 20th-century Europe.

"A national visa ban suggests a desire to humiliate and cast a slur on people as a group," he added.

Mr Chidoka emphasised that the behaviour of the UAE government and their airline is an unprovoked attack and that Nigeria should insist on a wholesome redress.

"As we speak, there is no word yet on the visa ban and no apology to Nigerians," the statement said.

Mr Chidoka said the Nigerian government must not allow Emirates Airlines to waltz back into its skies without being held accountable for their "disrespectful and demeaning" conduct.

"We demand a thorough investigation and restitution before even considering their return. Respect for our nation and people is non-negotiable and a minimum. We will not allow our pride to be trampled upon by arrogant corporations or foreign governments," the former minister said.

He urged the current administration to reaffirm Nigeria's priceless sovereignty at all times.

"Hypocrisy has never been this audacious" - Keyamo

In response to Mr Chidoka's criticism of the Emirates Airline's imminent return to Nigeria, Mr Keyamo questioned his predecessor's patriotism to Nigeria.

He asked why Mr Chidoka failed to dish out a similar piece of advice to his principal, Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP during the last presidential election.

"Thank you, @osita_chidoka for your opinion. However, to demonstrate your patriotism, sincerity and fidelity to the touted 'Nigerian Pride', the big puzzle is, why did you fail to similarly advise your boss, principal and mentor ATIKU Abubakar @atiku to immediately relocate from Dubai to Nigeria and sell off all his assets there in protest when the ban on visa and flights were announced?," the minister tweeted on his X page, stating that "Hypocrisy has never been this audacious!"

The minister said it is curious that, as a member of the think-tank of the PDP, the party's election strategy at a time (popularly dubbed 'the Dubai Strategy') was hatched in the same Dubai and not in Nigeria before the ban was announced.

"Why export a purely Nigerian project to Dubai if you loved Nigeria so much?" Mr Keyamo queried.

For the avoidance of doubt, the minister claimed that the Tinubu-led government is focused on fostering healthy relationships with major partners around the world for the ultimate benefit of Nigerians.

"Considering the huge investments and interests of Nigerians in the UAE, should we continue to engage in 'Bolekaja' (motor park) diplomacy capable of hurting the Nigerians?" he asked.

Also, Mr Keyamo questioned whether the imminent return of Emirates to Nigeria and, in a reciprocal manner, Air Peace returning to operate the Nigeria-Dubai route does not lead to better competition, which will ultimately crash the present high fares on that route.

"Who will benefit more? How many Emiratis visit Nigeria and invest here as much as Nigerians visit the UAE and invest there? Have you bothered to ask about the lifting of the visa ban before issuing your warped statement? For your information, that has been resolved too, and the announcement is imminent," Mr Keyamo said.

He said, "Rather than craftily resorting to the card of false nationalism in pursuit of cheap political points, you should have told Nigerians the economic disadvantages Nigeria stand to suffer, if any, as a result of the commendable effort of the Tinubu administration to straighten our relations with our friends in the UAE."

"I will advise your PDP to work harder to regain power in 2027 and maybe resume your hostilities with the UAE authorities thereafter," Mr Keyamo said.

Nigerians react

Both ministers' statements have generated several reactions from Nigerian citizens on social media.

While some Nigerians commended the constructive criticism of the Emirate's return, others urged the leaders to prioritise the interests of Nigerians.

An X user, Temi(@drteepie), said: "I agree with this, Hon Minister. Osita is shortsighted in this matter. Lifting of the visa ban and the imminent return of the Emirates will do a lot for Nigerians more than any other nationality. Emirates announced $5.1billion profit this year without coming to Nigeria."

In his opinion, Temi said, "Nigerians have a lot of interest in the UAE, which this direct flight services will help boost more. So, Osita, please take the back seat on this issue and stop embarrassing your principal."

Another X user, Adeniyi Kolade(@nykolade) said, "Unfortunately, the violence and personal abuses in the ministers' response overshadow the good points he raised on the matter. He should have made these points void of personal beef and insults."

"You didn't reply to that post by Osita as a minister appointed to serve the people of Nigeria but your party, the APC. You rather answer the questions from a political and combatant direction! Nigeria is a nation, not a football club! How did you pass the bar, Mr Keyamo?" said Christy Jane (@cathebely) in another tweet.

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