By Milcah Tanimu
In a surprising turn of events, Saudi Arabia has revoked the visa on arrival for 264 Nigerian passengers who arrived in the country aboard Air Peace from Kano. The Saudi Arabian authorities insisted that the passengers be returned to Nigeria, creating a ripple effect in Nigeria’s aviation and diplomatic circles.
The cancellation occurred as President Bola Tinubu participated in the Arab-Africa summits in Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, indicating that they are investigating the matter to determine if any consular or aviation rules were violated. The ministry affirmed its commitment to mitigating actions that could impact the welfare of Nigerian citizens in the future, aligning with President Tinubu’s 4-Ds strategy.
While the Presidency acknowledged the situation, it stated that it was awaiting more information on the matter. The flight, originating from Lagos and transiting through Kano, had arrived in Jeddah without incident, but upon landing, Saudi authorities unexpectedly canceled all passengers’ visas.
Speculation arises whether this move is a strategy to discourage Air Peace from operating to the destination, especially given the airline’s high load factor since commencing operations. The Nigerian embassy in Jeddah intervened, leading to a reduction in the number of passengers slated for return from 264 to 170.
Stakeholders in the aviation sector see this development as aeropolitics, suggesting that it aims to force the Nigerian carrier out of the route. They emphasize the need for immediate intervention by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, advocating for strong government support for designated Nigerian carriers operating internationally.
Industry expert Group Captain John Ojikutu emphasizes the importance of designating Nigerian airlines as flag carriers and urges the government to stand firmly behind Air Peace to uphold its rights as per the Bilateral Air Service Agreement with Saudi Arabia. The situation highlights the complexities of international aviation and the need for diplomatic efforts to resolve such issues.