…Airline possibly didn’t follow due process on landing permit – Aviation Ministry
By Victor Ogunyinka and Tunde Oso
“The police chased us out of the aircraft without making another arrangement for us.”
With those words, one of the Nigerians who claimed to have been stranded in London, United Kingdom (UK) in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic narrated their plight yesterday.
They were to be evacuated, according to him, to Nigeria but he said the airline that was to convey them changed its mind at the last minute because “the pilot told us that the Nigerian government refused him landing permit.”
He quoted the pilot as saying the landing permit was initially granted.
The Nigerian did not say whether they caused trouble in the plane after the flight was stopped to warrant the police chasing them out.
Another victim, narrating their ordeal, said they were to take off from Stansted Airport when they were forced to disembark from the “Titan Airline” aircraft.
He said the flight was billed to take off 7a.m., August 15, but was rescheduled for 10a.m., then 1p.m.
“The minimum amount paid by a passenger was N411,000. The pilot told us that they (the Nigerian government) refused him a landing permit, which was granted before now”, he stated.
“We were forced to pay for COVID-19 test in Nigeria after undergoing one test here in the United Kingdom. All of us were forced to pay N50,400 for test when we get to Nigeria.” The passenger explained that the requirements for boarding the aircraft include: Nigerian passport, COVID-19 test result and payment for another COVID-19 test in Nigeria.
Efforts to get officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry or Nigerians in Diaspora Commission to comment on the matter, last night, were unsuccessful.
Sources at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), when contacted, said all approvals about flights into the country are handled by the Minister of Aviation because of the emergency situation of the country.
But the spokesman for the Minister of Aviation, James Odaudu, told Sunday Vanguard he was not aware of the aborted London flight to Nigeria.
Odaudu explained that evacuation of Nigerians from abroad is handled by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, saying, however, the flight may have suffered the fate because the airline concerned didn’t follow due process to obtain landing permit.
Although the Nigerian airspace remains closed to international flights to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities made provisions for the evacuation of Nigerians stranded abroad.
The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, had, some weeks ago, announced guidelines for the resumption of evacuation of stranded Nigerians.
According to Aliyu, the guidelines seek to “make use of the limited resources and ensure that Nigerians are safely returned home,” while also mitigating risks and ensuring that infections stay in check.
The target, according to Aliyu, is to evacuate a minimum of 1,000 Nigerians every week, thus clearing the backlog caused by the long break in the evacuation process. Those who wish to be evacuated are first expected to get registered with the Nigerian missions, which will be coordinating the evacuation.
They are also expected to obtain a COVID-19 clearance showing that they are free of the virus while those who test positive will not be allowed to board evacuation flight. The test must have been conducted less than 14 days before the flight or it would be considered invalid.
Intending evacuees will also be required to sign an undertaking promising to abide by the guidelines and safety precautions put in place. This is a requirement for boarding.
Upon arrival in Nigeria, they will be required to undergo clearance at the airports, while their passports are withheld by the immigration authorities, pending the outcome of the second testing.
Those who test positive will be taken in for treatment and those whose tests return negative will still have to self-isolate for 14 days before they are signed off and allowed to take their passports and go home.
Intending evacuees will bear the costs implication for their lodging in Abuja or Lagos for the two weeks before they are allowed to return home to their families.
However, those who reside in the arrival locations (Lagos or Abuja) and can self-isolate in their homes will be allowed to do so under strict supervision from the NCDC.
Aliyu stated further that priority consideration will be given to those in challenging condition -”short term visitors, those on medical trips, those on holidays, pregnant mothers and students”.