The visas of all 264 passengers who travelled from Nigeria to Jeddah have been cancelled by the Saudi Arabian authorities.
The Air Peace flight took off from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, via the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano on Sunday night, Nov. 12, and arrived in Saudi Arabia’s major city, Jeddah, today, Nov. 13.
However, on landing, the Saudi Arabian authorities announced that all the passengers’ visas were cancelled and they should return to Nigeria.
A source told Vanguard that all the passengers and the airline personnel were shocked at the cancellation of the visas because during check the passengers went through the Advanced Passengers Prescreening System, APPS, which was also monitored by the Saudi Arabia authorities before the flight left Nigeria.
The source wondered whether what happened was a strategy to discourage the airline from operating to the destination because since it started the operation it has been recording a high load factor and even the flight expected to leave on Tuesday to Jeddah was already fully booked.
When the Nigerian embassy waded in, Saudi authorities were said to have reduced the number of passengers that would be returned from 264 to 170.
Saudi Air has been operating directly from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia and since Air Peace started flight service to the Middle East nation at relatively lower fares, it has been receiving high patronage and as a Nigerian carrier, it helps to conserve foreign exchange for the country.
A source from the Nigerian embassy in Jeddah said that even the Saudi immigration personnel said that they didn’t know who cancelled the visas but that they were cancelled when the airline was already airborne to Jeddah.
According to the source, “The airline was exonerated in all this as the APPS, which is live between both countries would have screened out any invalid visa and its passenger. The system accepted all affected passengers and passed them on.
“Those deported were 177 passengers and Air Peace has already left with them back to Nigeria. They are on their way to Nigeria now.”
Meanwhile, stakeholders in the sector have attributed the development to aeropolitics.
They stated that it is a way to force the Nigerian operator out of the route, unless the government intervenes by adopting the principle of reciprocity.
According to industry experts and the Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult, Nigeria, Group Captain John Ojikutu, the action of the Saudis is aero politics and diplomacy.
He also requested that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should step in immediately and intervene in the case.
He said that what happened showed why it is important for the Nigerian government to stand strongly with any Nigerian carrier designated to operate international destinations.
Ojikutu said: “The action of the Saudi Authorities is shocking. There is geopolitics there and there is also diplomacy. There is the need for the Nigerian government to stand firmly with Nigerian carriers and also designate them as flag carriers; so that other countries will know that they represent Nigeria.
“Government must come out and intervene. The government must be behind Air Peace now to ensure that it is not denied its rights as contained in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between the two countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must not keep quiet. Nigeria must not keep quiet. Ideally, the government is expected to stand behind any of the country’s airlines that it designates to fly overseas.”