It appears that Nigeria and South Africa are heading towards an aviation row over yellow fever vaccination.
This follows the continued mistreatment of passengers by the South African Port Health Authority which last week detained more than 50 passengers that travelled aboard Arik Air to Johannesburg.
This development resulted in Arik Air cancelling its next flight to Johannesburg, but had to reinstate it the subsequent day, following the intervention of the two governments which scheduled to meet over the issue.
Arik Air said that an ongoing dispute between international airlines operating in Johannesburg and the Port Health Authorities over the Yellow Fever documentation being presented to authorities at the OR Tambo International Airport by passengers, was hampering its flight operations into the Rainbow Republic.
“Many of the passengers have been detained and refused entry into the country in recent months. The Port Health Authorities cited the reason as being incorrect or unrecognised batch numbers on the documentation” said the airline.
Arik Air operates a Boeing 737-800 on the route from Lagos to Johannesburg and if 50 passengers of an aircraft that carries close to180 passengers were detained and refused entry into the country; then that is enough cause for concern.
While most advanced countries have done away with some of the obnoxious restrictions on air travel, African countries seem to strive in them. For most frequent travellers to Europe and America, it is on record that they only undergo immigrations, customs, narcotics and security checks and no one bothered with Port Health or issues pertaining to vaccination. Today’s civil aviation is concerned more with security concerns and continents are coming together to find common grounds on security for an industry that is under threat from terrorists.
Unfortunately, travelling to South Africa is now cumbersome as the authorities go to extreme lengths in implementing rules that are not even given a thought in Europe, America and even Asia.
Johnson, a journalist who travelled to South Africa a few years ago, said that he was forced to pay $100 by the Port Health at the airport before he was allowed entry into South Africa. He is not alone in this ordeal, so many Nigerian travellers to South Africa have been refused entry into the country on such frivolous issues while some are forced to pay for the vaccination at the point of entry.
However, based on the complaint of Arik Air, it appears that the problem has graduated from the issue of insisting that travellers pay for and be vaccinated at the point of entry, to detention and refusal of entry into the country.
There is no hiding the fact that faced with some competition; some countries try every means to frustrate other airlines from operating their scheduled flights. Arik Air insists that the outcome of the meeting between the authorities of both countries would make it decide on whether to continue with its operations to Johannesburg in future or not.
However, it is good that both countries have started to dialogue. This notwithstanding, the time has come for African countries to review some of these outdated and discriminatory protocols that restrict travel within the continent.
According to Dr Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, Group CEO/ President of Arik Air, the priority is the “passengers and we will ensure that everything is done to reaccommodate them whilst this situation is clarified and resolved in an agreeable manner for all carriers that are involved in this.”