It was January of this year when the UAE Government issued a new travel protocol targeted at Nigerians.
This policy which was to become operational on the 1st of February, 2021, said that all Nigerian passengers would have to take three COVID-19 tests.
The first would be a PCR test taken 72hrs before departure, the second would be a rapid antigen test taken 4hrs before departure and the last would be taken upon arrival in Dubai.
Emirates Airlines appointed agents for the purpose of the rapid antigen test to be taken 4hrs before flight departure and actually implemented this for a few days before the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, reacted and suspended Emirates Airlines first for 72hrs and then indefinitely.
The action of the UAE Government was curious.
Why single out Nigeria for extreme Covid protocols that were not being implemented anywhere else in the world?
At the time, Nigeria had one of the lowest Covid cases for a nation of her size so why this draconian measure?
This action puzzled everyone including the international aviation community.
The UAE Government claimed that Nigerians were forging Covid test results but this was a common practice all over the world.
The Nigerian Government immediately put in place mechanisms for the verification of Covid tests, which most nations are yet to do but the UAE Government did not back down.
The real reason for the actions of the UAE Government was never about Covid protocols but all about cornering the lucrative Nigerian market solely for Emirates Airlines.
They showed their hand early on by mandating all Nigeria passengers flying directly from Nigeria to fly only with Emirates Airlines and also went the extra mile to deter passengers who wanted to use other carriers by saying any Nigerian flying indirectly to Dubai must have been out of Nigeria for a minimum of fifteen days.
This was a killer blow as this rule made it almost impossible for Nigerians to fly other carriers knowing that they had to be in transit in a foreign country for fifteen days.
They believed that this would force the hands of Nigerians and their Government but the Minister of Aviation rose to the occasion and insisted that Nigeria would not succumb to gunboat diplomacy of any sort.
He called their bluff and seven months after, the UAE economy is feeling the pains as Nigerians, who were one of the few nationalities to dare Covid and flock to Dubai in droves as soon as the airports opened now stay away from Dubai.
Since this impasse, Emirates Airlines has tried several times to kickstart their Nigerian operations but each time the Minister of Aviation has maintained his position, saying Nigeria must not be labelled a high Covid nation and lumped with India, South Africa, Brazil, etc just because the UAE Govt needs a reason to force passengers to fly only Emirates.
He insists that Nigerians must be at liberty to fly the carrier of their choice and that whatever Covid protocols used must reflect the true situation of Nigeria, which is that of a nation with low rate of infections.
How long the Minister can stick to his position remains to be seen as some unpatriotic Nigerian elites are mounting pressure that he accepts the conditions imposed by the UAE Govt so that they can resume their Dubai visits without the hassles of a fifteen day transit in another country.
As for Roots TV, we stand with Hadi Sirika, the patriotic Minister of Aviation and say, ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’.
Nigeria needs more public servants like Hadi who would put the honour of Nigeria and Nigerians first before self.
This is one action this Government has gotten right.