Diplomatic intrigues stall evacuation of Nigerians from Canada
• May Arrive Monday • Evacuees From Thailand To Pay N162.3million For Hotel Accommodation, Feeding
• ‘Govt. Does Not Have Capacity To Foot The Bill’
Diplomatic intrigues and conflict of interest over the choice of operating carrier might explain why the scheduled evacuation of 200 Nigerians from Canada was stalled last Wednesday.
While the Nigerian government-designated local carrier, Air Peace, for the special operation, the Canadian government preferred Ethiopian Airlines, though at more expensive fares for the travellers.
Meanwhile, Nigerian evacuees from Thailand are expected to pay about N162.3million for hotel accommodation and feeding. The Guardian learnt that each of the evacuees was expected to pay N240, 000 as hotel accommodation for the period of 16 days and N57, 600 for feeding for the same period, making a total of N297, 600.
The federal government, after the arrival of the evacuees at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, had handed them over to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to properly quarantine for 14 days period to ensure they are COVID-19 free.
Although the government did not disclose where the evacuees were being quarantined, The Guardian learnt that the federal government had negotiated with some hotels in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to accommodate them, including Bolingo Hotel (300 rooms); Apo Apartments (61 rooms); Chida International Hotel (200 rooms); Belvior Hotel (30 rooms) and Barcelona Hotels (300 rooms).
The evacuees had been concerned about who was to pay their hotel bills, but a letter by the Nigerian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, dated May 14, this year and signed by the Head of Chancery, Nicholas Uhomoibi, read: “I am directed to bring to your attention that due to the measure that are beyond control of the COVID-19 local organising team in Nigeria, all evacuees going to Nigeria henceforth are to now pay for the quarantine, isolation, accommodation centre or hotel before departure and arrival in Nigeria.
“In this regard, all prospective evacuees are to take note of the negotiated rate- accommodation, N15, 000 for 16 days, equals N240, 000; feeding is N3, 600 multiplied by 16 days, making N57, 600, making a total of N297, 600.”
The letter urged the evacuees to be informed that the embassy had been instructed not to airlift any evacuees who did not pay the fees. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which confirmed the government position yesterday in Abuja, stated that the decision was due to its inability to foot the bill.
“The explanation for that is that the government does not have the capacity to foot the bill,” stated a ministry source, who confirmed the amount.The ministry, however, said the government was still negotiating to see how the amount could be reduced, as it was seeking cheaper hotels for the prospective evacuees.
The Guardian yesterday reported that Air Peace was denied landing right permits; hence had to delay the evacuation exercise till Nigerian and Canadian governments resolved the grey areas.
But sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday disclosed that the Canadian High Commission had opened talks with Ethiopian Airlines for the evacuation of Nigerians. Ethiopian Airlines (ET) has been airlifting Canadian citizens from different parts of Africa lately.
The federal government, through the ministries of Aviation and Foreign Affairs, has, however, waded into the matter, insisting that the Nigerian carrier has to operate the flight, in tandem with its new position that all evacuation flights must be conducted by Nigerian carriers.
It was learnt that ET is charging $2, 500 per voluntary returnee for the flight already planned for Monday, May 18, while Air Peace charged $1,134 for the same trip. To date, 319 passengers have paid to the Nigerian airline, which has concluded plans to operate full flight to the North American country.
Some of the Nigerians, who had booked and paid Air Peace for the flight, were already complaining about the insistence of the Canadian High Commission to choose a foreign airline over a Nigerian carrier.
Shocked by the decision of the Canadian High Commission, an official of the Nigerian carrier said Air Peace had successfully flown to 40 countries, including Canada, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), noting that it was the airline that evacuated Israeli citizens from Nigeria in March. 2
The official added: “We have done many international flights, including landing in Canada. We have made 19 flights to the US since 2014. We have flown to Tel-Aviv several times and in March, we evacuated over 200 Israelis from Nigeria back during this COVID-19 lockdown. We have scheduled flight operations to United Arab Emirates (UAE), UK, Ireland, China, Turkey, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland and other countries.
“We have IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification and we are a member of IATA. We have also evacuated Nigerians from South Africa during the xenophobic attack of Africans there.”
Reacting to the incident, former director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Benedict Adeyileka, described the action of the Canada High Commission as political, urging the federal government to stand firmly on its position that a Nigerian carrier should conduct the airlift.
“I am a nationalist to the core. Anything Nigerian is good enough as long as it is qualified to carry out the operation, and Air Peace has international operation experience.
“I insist that the Nigerian government should put its foot down on this. Nigerian carriers should not be stopped from conducting international operations,” he said.
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