More facts have emerged on why the new deal brokered by President Bola Tinubu to normalise relations between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is stalled.
Multiple diplomatic sources told LEADERSHIP on Friday that the unexpected delay may be related to a “mis-briefing” on the broad terms of the discussions between the visiting Nigerian authorities and their Emirati counterparts.
Recall that few days ago with the week, President Tinubu had on his way from New Delhi, India where he attended the G20 Summit, stopped over in Abu Dhabi to finalise discussions with the UAE President, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, on pending issues about the two countries’ relations.
Apparently, basking in the euphoria of what seemed like the resolutions of the issues, the Presidency through the presidential media handles had claimed that return to status quo was with immediate effect.
“What was characterised as resumption of flights and restoration of normal ties was clearly malicious exaggeration,” one diplomatic source said, adding that, “No such commitments were requested, discussed or accepted.”
Another source said only the Nigerian President, and the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, attended the meeting in Qasr Al Shati, Abu Dhabi, where at the high-level talks that took place with a few Emirati officials, led by the President of UAE, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan.
“It’s difficult to understand where the mis-briefing that led to the Nigerian report happened,” another diplomatic source said.
“Maybe it’s some people in the Nigerian delegation who were anxious to make political capital out of the visit by extracting far more for it than it actually promised. Ask your people where they got their report from,” it added.
It would be recalled that the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, issued an overly optimistic statement on September 11, in which he said, “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.”
According to Ngelale, the agreement in question referred to the discussion between Tinubu and the President of UAE.
Ngelale later doubled-down on the purported agreement during an appearance on Channels TV the next day, pressing the news item into virtually all local media and a number of international news networks, including Bloomberg.
The Emiratis later issued a counter-statement, which read like a disclaimer, forcing Nigeria to dial back.
Diplomatic sources used the words, “furious,” “deeply upset,” and “shocked,” to describe the reaction that trailed the Nigerian statement in Abu Dhabi.
Sources said Tinubu responded with “deep embarrassment” and has ordered an investigation into how the Nigerian statement was issued.
“For a stopover visit,” another diplomatic source said, “the size of Nigeria’s delegation was a little surprising.”
Nigeria’s Minister for Aviation, Festus Keyamo, told the Aviation Summit in Abuja on Thursday, that details of the flight resumption were “still being worked out between Nigeria and the UAE.”
Sources said the UAE deal, particularly ticket revenues of about $85 million stuck at Nigeria’s Central Bank; and the visa restrictions over allegations of misconduct against some Nigerian applicants, require delicate handling.
“Of course, UAE would like to expand bilateral relations with Nigeria, but it is unlikely that the want to do so without been sure what they’re getting back in return,” a diplomatic source said.
“You know that the entire amount outstanding to foreign airlines tied down in the CBN is about $743 million,” one aviation source said on Friday. “The other airlines are also watching to see how the Nigerian government treats the Emirate Airlines case.”
LEADERSHIP reports that Emirates and Etihad suspended flights to Nigeria in November 2022 over remittance disputes, among other issues.