As a follow-up to discussions between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which started in September, a delegation from UAE arrived in Abuja on Sunday to hold talks with the Federal Government.
The five-member delegation is expected to meet Nigerian officials over the next few days to restart diplomatic relations between Nigeria and UAE, which collapsed last year over unremitted flight funds tied at Nigeria’s Central Bank and visa restrictions.
LEADERSHIP gathered from credible sources privy to the development that the UAE delegation is a mid-level one without cabinet-level Ministers, but it does signify some progress in the attempt to birth a new Nigeria-UAE diplomatic relationship, which strained about a year ago.
The delegation comprised Alshehhu Rashed; Teo Teck San; Almannaei Khalid; Alhosani Talal; and Janahi Asma.
LEADERSHIP recalls that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had few weeks ago made a stopover in Abu Dhabi, UAE on his way back from the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India, where a high-level talks on the issues took place with a few Emirati officials, led by the President of UAE, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan.
Even though the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, issued an overly optimistic statement on September 11, in which he said, “By this historic agreement both Etihad Airlines and Emirates Airlines are to immediately resume flight schedules into and out of Nigeria, without any further delay.”
But, Ngelale later doubled-down on the purported agreement during an appearance on Channels TV, suggesting that the issues at stake weren’t the way he projected them to be.
The Emiratis later issued a counter-statement, which read like a disclaimer, forcing Nigeria to dial back.
Diplomatic sources used the words, “furious,” “deeply upset,” and “shocked,” to describe the reaction that trailed the Nigerian statement in Abu Dhabi.
Sources said Tinubu responded with “deep embarrassment” and has ordered an investigation into how the Nigerian statement was issued.
“For a stopover visit,” another diplomatic source said, “the size of Nigeria’s delegation was a little surprising.”
Nigeria’s Minister for Aviation, Festus Keyamo, told the Aviation Summit in Abuja days later, that details of the flight resumption were “still being worked out between Nigeria and the UAE.”
Sources said the UAE deal, particularly ticket revenues of about $85 million stuck at Nigeria’s Central Bank; and the visa restrictions over allegations of misconduct against some Nigerian applicants, require delicate handling.
“Of course, UAE would like to expand bilateral relations with Nigeria, but it is unlikely that they want to do so without being sure of what they’re getting back in return,” a diplomatic source had said.
“You know that the entire amount outstanding to foreign airlines tied down in the CBN is about $743 million,” one aviation source said on Friday. “The other airlines are also watching to see how the Nigerian government treats the Emirate Airlines case.”
UAE’s Emirates and Etihad Airlines suspended flights to Nigeria in November 2022 over remittance disputes, among other issues.