Emirates to return to Nigeria after deal with UAE

The Dubai flag-carrier will return to Nigeria "without delay" after a year-long row over the repatriation of funds from the country.


Image : Robert / Adobe Stock

United Arab Emirates-based flag carriers Emirates and Etihad Airlines will resume flights to Nigeria “without any further delay” as part of a wide-ranging deal between the Nigerian government and the UAE, according to the Nigerian government. 

The deal, agreed between Nigerian President Bola Tinubu and UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, also includes the immediate repeal of a visa ban placed on Nigerian travellers and billions of dollars of UAE investments into Nigeria.

“By this historic agreement, both Etihad Airlines and Emirates Airlines are to immediately resume flight schedules into and out of Nigeria, without any further delay. As negotiated between the two Heads of State, this immediate restoration of flight activity, through these two airlines and between the two countries, does not involve any immediate payment by the Nigerian government,” said the statement.

The return of Emirates would bring to an end a year of inactivity after the Dubai flag-carrier said in August 2022 that it would suspend all flights to and from Nigeria, citing its inability to repatriate funds from the country, then led by President Muhammadu Buhari.

In a letter sent to the government on 22 July 2022, Emirates said that it had $85m stuck in the country as of that month, a figure that had been rising by $10m per month. At the time, the company claimed it had “tried every avenue to address our ongoing challenges in repatriating funds from Nigeria, and have made considerable efforts to initiate dialogue with the relevant authorities.”

By March this year, it was being reported that Emirates still had around $35m worth of ticket revenues stuck in Nigeria and was making slow progress in repatriating funds.  

Relationship reset

While the financial details of the deal were not disclosed, President Tinubu’s willingness to break the deadlock indicates that he is taking a more accommodative approach to foreign investors who have long complained that it is too difficult to repatriate funds from Nigeria. Under the presidency of Buhari, strict foreign currency restrictions were imposed on international investors.

By contrast, Nigeria said that the new deal will also include the launch of a new a joint foreign exchange liquidity programme with the UAE, details of which will be announced in the coming weeks.

The states also agreed that the investment arms of the UAE government would invest “several billions of US dollars” into sectors of the Nigerian economy including defence, agriculture and others.

The statement said that Tinubu commended UAE leader Al Nahyan for “his unalloyed friendship and his determined effort join hands with him to fully normalize and reset to excellence, the standard of relations between the two important countries.”

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David Thomas

Editor of African Business.