The travel ban by the United Kingdom (UK), Canada and other countries has sparked a big row between Nigeria and some western nations.
In a retaliatory move, Nigeria yesterday announced plans to halt commercial flights from the UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Argentina into its airspace from today or tomorrow.
The UK, which had on December 4 added Nigeria to its red list, imposed the travel ban to curtail the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus. A few days after, Canada, Argentina, ad Saudi Arabia followed suit.
According to reports, Nigeria was weighing options against the UK, including retaliatory action, if UK authorities failed to immediately reverse the ban.
Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed l said it was up to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 to announce an appropriate response to the flight restrictions by the four countries.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who is also a member of the PSC, said in an audio recording shared with reporters in Lagos that airlines from the four countries have lost the moral right to fly into Nigeria.
He said: “They are not supposed to come in. I am very sure in the next three days; Monday or Tuesday, all those countries will be put on the red list of COVID-19.
“There is also the case of Saudi Arabia that put Nigeria on the ban list. “On Sunday, I participated in a meeting with the COVID-19 task force. “We have given our input that it is not acceptable by us and we recommended that those countries- Canada, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina – also be put on the red list.
“As they did to us if they do not allow our citizens into their countries; who are they coming, as airlines, to pick from our country?” Sirika apologised to Nigerians intending to travel to those countries, saying the government’s decision was in the interest of the country.
A diplomat, Ambassador Bulus Lolo, and an international relations expert, Prof. Osita Agbu, welcomed the move by the government, saying it was in tandem with the principle of reciprocity.
Lolo, a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the decision is not new in international diplomacy, “especially under certain circumstances”.
His words: “The reasons Federal Government has given, I believe in my view, are very cogent, if the United Kingdom, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, among others, can place Nigeria on their red list with their citizens coming into Nigeria; this doesn’t make sense.
“It is a very timely and a very good move by Nigeria to embark on the principle of reciprocity; that is being proactive.” Agbu, who is a senior fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, said the principle of reciprocity is used when it is extremely necessary.
He said it was too early for the UK and the three other countries to have added Nigeria to their red list, considering the fact that Omicron was traced to passengers who travelled through and from Nigeria.