Authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia cancelled the visas of all the 264 passengers who arrived in Jeddah from Nigeria on November 12, 2023, on Air Peace, according to media reports. It is unclear why the passengers, most of whom were visiting Saudi for Lesser Hajj, were denied entry. It was reported that the flight took off from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos via the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (Kano) on Sunday night and landed at King Abdul-Aziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
However, to the consternation of the airline staff, the Saudi Arabian authorities announced that all the passengers’ visas had been cancelled. The incident occurred barely one week after Air Peace launched a direct flight to Saudi Arabia. A source who confirmed the development told the media that the screening of passengers from the MMIA and Kano Airport was thorough and there was no issue with the visas. These were people who were duly issued the visa and they passed through the advanced passenger information system which is accessible to both authorities in Lagos and Jeddah.
Is this a strategy to frustrate Air Peace out of the route?
This source said that passengers were surprised because this cancellation was announced when the flight had already landed. The source suspected that this is a strategy to frustrate the Nigerian carrier out of the route, and some people are definitely not happy with the option Air Peace is providing, which is the direct flight to Jeddah. This is as opposed to using another foreign airline which attracts higher fares. The passengers reportedly went through the Advanced Passengers Information System (APIS) during the check-in formalities in Nigeria which was also monitored by the Saudi authorities.
It was gathered that it was when the Nigerian embassy waded in that Saudi authorities reduced the number of passengers that would be returned to 177 from 264. Before the commencement of direct flights by Air Peace, Saudia, a Saudi Arabian flag carrier, had been operating directly from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia. This incident occurred at a time that President Bola Tinubu was in Saudi Arabia attending the Saudi-Africa summit in Riyadh this week to attract foreign direct investment to Africa’s largest economy and mobilize capital to build needed infrastructure.
FG has launched an investigation into the incident.
At the summit, Mr. Tinubu said that Nigeria and Saudi Arabia have always enjoyed a special relationship at both the bilateral and multilateral levels. He noted that within the past six decades, the bilateral cooperation between the two countries, which was initially hajj-centric, has witnessed diversification to cover a number of areas of common interest. Tinubu found it delightful to note the presence in this great Kingdom of a large number of our compatriots and professionals, including highly-skilled medical practitioners and professional football players.
Neither Air Peace nor the Saudi or Nigerian governments have reacted officially to the incident as of the time of this report. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has launched an investigation into the cancellation of visas for 264 passengers. Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through its Special Adviser, Al-Kasim Abdulkadir, has stated in a statement that it is now investigating the matter to determine if any consular or aviation rules were violated. “Nigeria has just participated in the Saudi-Africa Summit, where bilateral discussions covering several sectors of the economy and mutually beneficial commitments were made,” Al-Kasim stated.
Foreign Affairs ministry will take steps to mitigate such actions.
Abdulkadir noted that despite the passengers having completed the APIS process, the Saudi authorities still opted to cancel their visas. He reported that it was only after the Nigerian embassy intervened that the Saudi authorities reduced the number of passengers who would be returned from 264 to 177. “The Ministry will ensure such actions that impact the welfare of Nigerian citizens are mitigated in the future in line with the 4Ds strategy of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu,” he added.