By Sueliman Umaru
Those who thinks that the United Arab Emirate, UAE, one of the most popular Middle East countries mostly visited by Nigerians because of the tourist attraction would lift the visa ban imposed on Nigeria and 19 other African countries in 2022, may have to do a rethink. This is because the Arab country appears not to be in hurry to do so.
Salem Saeed Al Shamsi, UAE, Ambassador to Nigeria, who had visited Nyensom Wike, a former governor of Rivers state and now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, appears to have hit the nail on the head when he revealed that there are’’ some challenges that have led to the stalling of the visa ban to the Arab nation.
The UAE Ambassador may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians to think that all hopes are not yet lost in lifting the visa ban as the country over the past few months had been working round the clock to close the gap s and lift the visa ban on Nigerians.
The Ambassador who could not hide his feelings was said to have told the former Rivers state governor who was said to have expressed his concern over the visa ban on Nigerians, as they could no longer travel to the country as expected that’’ very soon, there will be good news’’ but how soon nobody can tell.
Wike, the FCT, minister who had said that the Nigerian government will do everything within its powers to explore more ways to partner with the Arab country to ensure economic growth in Nigeria was said to have told the UAE Ambassador at his office in Abuja that the relationship between Nigeria and the UAE, was so important to foster national development , urging the country to expedite action to lift the ban on visa restrictions to enable Nigerians to travel to the country that have tourism attraction in the city of Dubai garnered over the years.
Until the Middle East country took the bold initiative, to stop issuing visa to Nigerians and the other 19 African nations. The Value news learnt that obtaining a 30-day tourist visa to the Arab country was relatively easy.
As a prelude to the UAE abrupt stoppage of issuing visas to Nigeria nationals, flight between the two countries was said to have been stopped after Dubai’s Emirate Airline had suspended its operations in Nigeria over its inability to access and repatriate its funds to the tune of over $85 million withheld by the Nigerian government. The situation was so worrisome going by the reports of the International Air Transport Association, IATA’s, in August 2023, that Nigeria has continued to hold the foreign airlines including Etihad airlines and Emirates airlines to the tune of the North American country of the United States, US, $783 million.
Given the age-long relationships between the two countries may have informed why Tinubu, the Nigerian President, mid- last September had met Zayed Al- Nahyan, the UAE Leader in Abu Dubai to resolve the crisis that had led to the stoppage of issuing visas to Nigeria nationals to travel to the country which have much tourist attractions.
The two Leaders were said to have finalised agreement that would pave the way for lifting the visa ban on Nigerians, including immediate resumption of flights between the countries. The Nigerian President had given the impression that based on the historic agreement with his UAE Counterpart, Etihad Airlines and Emirates Airlines are to resume flight schedules and out of Nigeria without further delay. Unknown to the Nigerian President, the UAE, Leader had agreed during their discussions that there is need for both countries ‘’ to explore opportunities for further bilateral collaboration in areas that both countries sustainable economic growth’’.’ The UAE Leader was said to have expressed hope that after they had finanlised agreement that they would together to enforce ties between the two countries but mentioned no lifting of the visa ban or resumption of flights.
In spite of the fact that the UAE and Nigerian Leader had signed an agreement that could have ended he conflict between the two countries to herald the lifting of issuing visas to Nigerians by the UAE government, Ajuri Ngelale, Nigerian President spokesperson had said that both countries needed more time to finalise the accord.
On Monday, November, November 13, 2023, The Saudi Arabia, a neighbouring country to UAE, had cancelled the visas of 264 passengers airlifted by Nigeria’ private carrier, Air Peace to Jeddah, the country’s Capita. The Passengers were said to have been airlifted from Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, and the ancient town of Kano on board Air Peace by the Saudi Authorities had cancelled the visas of the 264 Nigerians.
The worry of Nigerians was that the country had just participated in the Saudi-Arab- Africa economic summit in Riyadh, the country’s Capital, where the Crown Prince Mohammed bin alman, and the Nigerian President held bilateral talks covering several sectors of the economy and also reached mutually beneficial Commitment between the two countries.
The Saudi Arabian government may have gone a step further to sign over a $500 million deal in oil and gas Industry with Nigeria and four other countries. The country was said to have equally promised revamp the Nigeria’s four moribund refineries, with a refining capacity of 450,000b/d refining capacity and m making substantial foreign currencies available to the country’s forex market, managed by the Central bank of Nigeria, CBN, under the close watch of Olayemi Michael Cardoso.
For a country that had pledged to do all that much for Nigeria to have resorted to cancel the visas of 264 passengers coming from the same country despite the fact that they had gone through the advanced passenger’s information system, APIS, during the check -in formalities in Nigeria which was said to have been monitored by the Saudi Authorities speaks volume.
This may have informed why Al- Kasim Abdulkadir, Special Adviser to the minister of Foreign Affairs who do not find the action of the Saudi government funny had said the ministry is investigating into the incident to determine if any Consular or aviation rule of the Arab country was flouted to warrant the decision by the Saudi government.
Many believe that there was no basis for the Saudi Authorities Action, if not to show solidarity with the UAE, which had banned issuance of visa to Nigerians and 19 other African countries since 20222, during the former President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration.
Given the recent incident in Saudi Arabia where the visas of 264 Nigerian passengers were cancelled by the Saudi Authorities in Jeddah , one of the major towns in the country may have encouraged the officials of the ministry of Foreign Affairs off to take up the visa ban issue with a delegation of the UAE in Nigeria to finally finalise discussions regarding the possible lifting of the visa ban on Nigeria. They were said to have also discussed on the need for Etihad airlines and Emirates airlines to resume normal scheduled flights to Nigeria. Although 264 Nigerian Passengers visas were cancelled but the Nigerian government intervention may have informed why only 177 of the Passengers were deported to Nigeria.
A Presidency source disclosed that a UAE government 5-man delegation visit to Nigeria last October was a follow up to the trip to the Middle East country by the Nigerian President in September where he was said to have had discussions on renewing diplomatic relations with the UAE was initiated.
The UAE, 5-man delegation, were said met the Nigerian President to deliver a message from their Country Leader and also had discussions with some over the diplomatic relations between the two countries which had collapsed during former President Muhammadu’ Buhari’s Administration last year over unremmited funds tied at the CBN, and the visa restrictions.
It was not surprising why the UAE Ambassador to Nigeria, when he visited Wike, the minister of FCT, had re-echoed what the 5-man delegation that had earlier visited Nigeria that there is good news coming that may lead to the resumption of flights between the two countries and lifting of ban on issuance of visa to Nigerians intending to travel to the country.