FG Moves to Review Bilateral Relations with Some African Countries
The federal government is considering reviewing its bilateral relations with some African countries that have refused to approve the operations of Nigerian airlines to destinations in their places, while they are allowed to fly to Nigeria, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has disclosed.
Over the years, Nigeria’s diplomatic philosophy has been Afrocentric, whereby the country gives a lot of concessions to African countries by making it easy for airlines from the continent to fly to Nigerian destinations without hindrances. However, these nations in the efforts to protect their own airlines do not equally reciprocate Nigeria’s gestures by allowing Nigerian airlines to also operate to theirs.
According to air traffic regulations in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), every country in West Africa should have direct fight from its capital to Abuja, the headquarters of the sub-regional body and also the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, but some African countries refuse to give Nigerian airlines approval when they request to connect these countries to Nigerian destinations like Lagos and Abuja.
Recently a Nigerian carrier, Air Peace threatened to drag Togo to court over the refusal by its civil aviation authority to allow it and other Nigerian carriers to operate into the country to reciprocate the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) signed between Nigeria and Togo.
“Nigeria gave us right to fly into African countries but we are only doing Ghana presently. Those other countries never wanted to answer our emails. We had to send people there. We went to them pleading. They see Air Peace as a threat. Senegal has not been here since two years to see our facilities to approve us to come to Senegal. We have written them but they have refused to come. We have provided everything they want us to provide. Cote d’Ivoire did it to us because they wanted to protect Air Cote d’ivoire,” the Chairman and CEO of the airline, Chief Allen Onyema said.
It was a similar experience with Arik Air few years ago when it wanted to operate to Angola, Gabon and other countries but while Angola and Gabon allowed the airline’s operations after years of negotiations, other countries in the sub-region never replied the Nigerian airline’s requests, but Nigeria give airlines from these countries easy access to the country’s airspace.
THISDAY gathered that it was the refusal of these countries to allow Nigerian airlines operate into their countries, especially in West and Central Africa that gave rise to pseudo monopoly of some of the routes in the West Coast with the consequent high fares, as fares from Lagos to Senegal, which is about three hours could be as high as travelling from Lagos to Dubai, which is about eight hours.
The Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Muhtar Usman hinted that the federal government would review bilateral relations with these countries if they refuse to give Nigerian airlines approval in the spirit of reciprocity and noted that the regulatory authority in implementing government’s policy in aviation gives support to Nigerian carriers to operate to international and regional destinations.
“We operate not in isolation but in line with the bilateral air services agreement between countries and in some cases multilateral services agreement between various countries. Now in the bilateral or multilateral, airlines are designated to operate routes that are assigned in order to be fair and also to improve on competition and also better services and better pricing, Usman said.
He however, noted that when some Nigerian airlines make request to operate to these countries they do not carry NCAA along “because the essence of the bilateral agreement is to facilitate air travels between two countries. We go out of the way to ensure that the right things are done in line with the provision of BASAs. So anytime any of our operators feels that he is not being treated fairly, he should come to us.”