The Nigerian government on Monday explained that its decision to ban some international airlines from coming into the country was not politically motivated.
The minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, while speaking at the bi-weekly Presidential Task Force on COVID- 19 briefing, said its decision was based on the capacity to handle a certain number of passengers to curb the import of coronavirus into the country.
“Every decision we have taken is based on concrete variables. So, regarding who comes in and who is not approved, we all know that we have a challenge of the number of passengers that we can process in our airports given the resources; both human and material, that we have to fight COVID-19.
“There is nothing political about it. No decision we have taken is diplomatically-related or for tit for tat diplomatic relationship; far from that,” he said.
Following the resumption of international flights in the country, the government had denied some airlines entrance into the country.
Airlines denied entrance into Nigeria included Air France, KLM, Etihad, Rwandair, Lufthansa, TAAG Angola Airlines, Air Namibia, and Royal Air Maroc, when the country reopened its airspace to international flights on September 5.
President Muhammad Buhari in March ordered the suspension of international flights to curb the influx of imported cases of the COVID-19 virus in the country.
Nigeria had in August vowed to implement a reciprocity clause by banning flights and airlines from countries that put similar bans on flights from Nigeria as nations open their airspace amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The minister’s Monday statement, however, suggests the ban was for a different reason and not reciprocity.
Mr Sirika said the ban placed on these airlines is unconnected to their countries of operations.
He said the airlines were barred to limit the numbers of people coming into the country as the world continues to battle COVID-19.
“So, the airlines were contacted and so it has nothing to do with countries per se, and that is why for instance, Emirates was approved but Etihad from the same country was denied. So, it has nothing to do with countries.
“We will maintain the number that we can handle in our airports and we will keep it to those who can take non-resident visas, tourists, and others in and out of the country,” he said.
The minister also hinted that Enugu, Kano, and Port Harcourt airports will be opened to international flights as soon as the airports have the capacity to process a certain number of passengers into the country.
Mr Sirika noted that all domestic airlines no longer need approval from him or other relevant agencies for flight operations.
He said all airports in Nigeria are now opened for flights, including those who are in private charter operations.
“They no longer need approvals from us to operate within all government-approved airports and in all government-owned airports.
“However, those airports that are private airports, which are also government approved; operators should check the safety status with Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority. Such airports like Jalingo, Uyo, Asaba, Gombe, Nasarawa, Damaturu, Osubi and others,” he said.
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