By Abubakar Yunusa
The federal government says it is currently working to pay off international airlines whose funds are trapped in the country.
Festus Keyamo, minister of aviation and aerospace development, disclosed this on Thursday, at the closing ceremony of the 7th African Aviation Summit in Abuja.
In June 2023, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said $812.2 million of foreign airlines’ funds are withheld in Nigeria.
Speaking on the issue, Keyamo expressed President Bola Tinubu’s concern, assuring that efforts were being made to ensure that the funds of the foreign airlines were repatriated.
“In fact, it is one of the issues we went to discuss in the UAE,” he said.
“I spoke with the minister of finance and the coordinating minister of the economy and he has given an indication that within the next few weeks, the Central Bank of Nigeria will be very clear as to the timeframe or the programme within which these issues will be addressed.
“They will be paid off; these are not loans, they are trapped funds, they are funds that are there, it is only the issue of liquidity that is our problem.”
Keyamo added that liquidity issues are being addressed “as I speak right now”.
“It is something that the president is very concerned about, and that issue, I said that we have addressed it in the UAE and very soon, you will hear from the financial sector,” he said.
The federal government had said Emirates and Etihad Airlines are expected to resume flight operations in Nigeria immediately, after a meeting with the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The development came 10 months after Emirates suspended flight operations to Nigeria over its inability to repatriate its $85 million revenue.
Asked if the airlines would commence work in the next few months, Keyamo said the government is working “on the fine details”.
“We are working the details out. When two countries agree at the very top level, then of course, all the government operatives will begin to work out the tiny details,” the minister said.
“So, we are beginning to work out all the tiny details. I met with Emirate before I left UAE, I met with Etihad before I left UAE and we are working out the details.
“The time frame, we cannot say the time frame. Kicking off an airline operation again on a route, it is not that you will go and grab one empty plane sitting in a place.
“There is no idle plane sitting anywhere, they have to reschedule their flights, restart their routes again, and all kinds of things.”
Keyamo also said he sought reciprocal rights for airlines operating between Nigeria and the UAE, in accordance with the bilateral air services agreements (BASA).
“All kinds of permission will be taken from local authorities and of course, I made the point in speaking with them and I made it clear that they will have to give our airlines reciprocal rights under our BASA,” he said.
Keyamo added that the airlines agreed that “any spot we need, they will give us as much as we give them those spots within Nigeria”.