The travel ban by the United Kingdom (UK), Canada and other countries has sparked a big row between Nigeria and some western nations.
In a retaliatory move, Nigeria yesterday announced plans to halt commercial flights from the UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Argentina into its airspace from today or tomorrow.
The UK, which had on December 4 added Nigeria to its red list, imposed the travel ban to curtail the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus. A few days after, Canada, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia followed suit.
On Wednesday, Nigeria began to weigh options against the UK, including retaliatory action, if UK authorities failed to immediately reverse the ban.
Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed last Thursday said it was up to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 to announce an appropriate response to the flight restrictions by the four countries.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who is also a member of the PSC, said in an audio recording shared with reporters in Lagos that airlines from the four countries have lost the moral right to fly into Nigeria.
He said: “They are not supposed to come in. I am very sure in the next three days; Monday or Tuesday, all those countries will be put on the red list of COVID-19.
“There is also the case of Saudi Arabia that put Nigeria on the ban list.
“On Sunday, I participated in a meeting with the COVID-19 task force.
“We have given our input that it is not acceptable by us and we recommended that those countries- Canada, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina – also be put on the red list.
“As they did to us if they do not allow our citizens into their countries; who are they coming, as airlines, to pick from our country?”
Sirika apologised to Nigerians intending to travel to those countries, saying the government’s decision was in the interest of the country.
Mohammed told reporters last week in Abuja, that the “reflex responses” of the UK and others were driven by fear rather than Science.
He described the flight restrictions from Nigeria as “unjust, unfair, punitive, indefensible and discriminatory”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had said countries should apply an “evidence-informed and risk-based approach” when deciding on travel measures related to Omicron, including possible screening or quarantine of international passengers. The world body added that blanket bans may not prevent its spread.
Nigeria has a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with over 90 countries. However, over the years, stakeholders have lamented that most air agreements between Nigeria and other countries have been one-sided as Nigerian airlines have been unable to reciprocate the agreements due to what they termed, “aero-politics”.