Where is Nigeria’s strategic interest in the aviation sector in this matter under review? Has the interest of Nigeria’s aviation sector been served?
…we urge President Tinubu, focusing on the aviation sector and aerospace development, to take a closer and critical look at AMCON and the interest of stakeholders in that industry – from the plight of domestic airlines under receivership and allegations of prejudice and mistreatment, to the structure of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), security matters, and the state of Nigeria’s airports.
For more than a week, President Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s chief foreign policy officer, has been on a diplomatic offensive to New Delhi, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit hosted by India, and from Bharat, as that country is otherwise known, he has had a quick diplomatic stop-over in United Arab Emirates (UAE). Next week, he goes off to New York, United States, for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). When Tinubu returns to Nigeria, before he goes off to New York, his handlers would have more than enough to crow about and a lot of chest-beating to do. I imagine that following the ruling in his favour by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, on Wednesday, 6 September, we can legitimately expect a loud and heavy display of triumphalism, sycophancy, self-congratulation and advertisements by Tinubu/APC supporters for whom modesty is a strange word, but the more sobre ones among them would probably point to how Tinubu seems to be succeeding on the foreign policy front.
In less than 100 days in office, he was elected Chairman of ECOWAS, and has had to lead the charge in managing the Niger coup crisis, even if roughly; in June, he also attended a France-Africa summit in Paris, an African Union summit in Nairobi in July, and now he has gone to India, and the United Arab Emirates. Beyond the assertion of political, and diplomatic influence, and a claw at legitimacy in a local “emilokan” style, whether you like it or not, big photo ops on the world stage, big opportunities to showcase Nigeria and the new administration, the main narrative has been that President Tinubu has been attracting investment to the country. In India, the total pledge by Indian investors was put at $14 billion. It is this drive for investment that connects President Tinubu’s foreign excursions as covert text, and it was the same also in the UAE. But I keep adding the caveat that pledges would not translate into anything, beyond the ink on the Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) that Nigeria signs here and there, if these pledges do not yield concrete outcomes. Nigeria is very good at signing documents and taking photos. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials are very good at organising ceremonies for any President who likes to stage shows; in any case, the current “City Boy, Eko For Show” President would jump at any opportunity to hug the limelight. But ceremonies and photo-ops would take Nigeria nowhere. Nigerians need follow-ups. We need a Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (MITI) that can turn pledges into opportunities.
We need to be reminded that domestic policy drives foreign policy. Investors are not in the business of charity. The gulf between them and the Red Cross is the widest in the world. They are interested in profit and opportunities. For the pledges that have been made to be redeemable, President Tinubu must meet the existing and prospective investors half-way, by keeping his part of the bargain to wit: his promise that Nigeria would provide very good returns on investments, that is ROI, the bottom line in the age of capitalism. Investors want to minimise risk. Nigeria is a risk-laden investment destination. Investors cannot repatriate their funds. The country’s foreign exchange regime is unpredictable. The country’s CBN Governor has been suspended. He is in detention. The interim CBN Governor is exactly not in a position to make far-reaching decisions, so the CBN is busy experimenting with monetary policies. Professor Pat Utomi once wrote a successful book titled Managing Uncertainty: Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1998, 465 pp). If Nigeria’s economy was hobbling with the aid of a walking stick at the time Utomi wrote that book, its fortunes are now so uncertain – the economy having suffered multiple strokes, that it is now in a wheel-chair. This is what Tinubu has inherited, and what he must do something about beyond all these high-profile photo opportunities around the globe.
His recent diplomatic shuttle has however provided one bright indicator that should not be ignored, and that is the outcome of his trip to the United Arab Emirates. It is one achievement that we can touch and perhaps feel. It will be recalled that the Presidency informed us that the purpose of the Abu Dhabi stop-over was to get the United Arab Emirates to lift the visa ban on Nigerians and to ensure that Emirates Airlines, the kingdom’s airliner lifts its suspension of flights to Nigeria. The third shopping item in the basket was to hunt for investments in agriculture, defence and other areas. By yesterday evening, we had been told that after meetings with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, and the Emir of Abu Dhabi, President Tinubu was able to secure the lifting of visa ban on Nigerians, and the immediate restoration of flight activity to Nigeria by Emirates Airlines without “any immediate payment by the Nigerian government.” Kudos. Kudos. Kudos. This achievement is all the more remarkable because Tinubu has just scored victory where his predecessor in office failed. What has happened is a teachable moment in leadership and diplomacy.
Where is Nigeria’s strategic interest in the aviation sector in this matter under review? Has the interest of Nigeria’s aviation sector been served? When Tinubu assumed office, there have, indeed, been some activities in the aviation sector. One, he changed the nomenclature of the Ministry from Ministry of Aviation to Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development. Two, he appointed Festus Keyamo as minister.
A bit of the background is necessary. In 2021, the Emirates airlines and the UAE had insisted on administering rapid antigen tests on Nigerians visiting the UAE, which resulted in a diplomatic row. Subsequently, Emirates Airlines also raised questions about its inability to repatriate funds from Nigeria. Further, on 18 October, 2022, the UAE banned nationals from about 20 African countries from entering its major city, Dubai, Nigeria inclusive, alongside other countries like Benin Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Uganda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Burkina Faso. As the drama unfolded, in February 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu’s predecessor, placed a phone call to Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE to condole with him on the death of his mother-in-law and he used the opportunity to bring up the matter of the blanket visa ban on Nigerians intending to travel to the UAE. The major revelation of that bilateral move was that many Nigerians go to the UAE illegally and in flagrant violation of the laws of the Kingdom. Buhari, at the time, also asked for a resumption of the suspended operations of the Emirates Airlines. This is where Tinubu has now gained victory. Etihad and Emirates Airlines can now resume flight schedules in and out of Nigeria. Many Nigerians for whom Dubai is a favourite trade, tourism and medical destination are now jubilant. Dubai is an attractive destination because of leadership and vision. Nigerians are rushing to Dubai and hustling for visas to the UAE because their own country has not met their expectations. For the benefit of those who would start touting Tinubu’s UAE mission as a big deal, they need to be cautioned that there are other sides to the story, especially with regard to the aviation sector.