FG bows to Canada, drops Air Peace from evacuation plan

Chinelo Obogo

Despite insisting that domestic airlines would carry out evacuation operations, the Federal Government has bowed to pressure from the Canadian government to drop Air Peace from carrying out the evacuation of Nigerians in Canada who wish to return over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Th government also promised the stranded Nigerians that it would make necessary refunds to the affected Nigerians based on the agreement clause between it and the Nigerians who had wanted to return to the country with Air Peace.

Last week, The Sun reported that the Canadian government refused to grant Air Peace landing permit and its High Commission in Nigeria caused the delay in evacuation of Nigerians which was supposed to take place last Thursday.

Air Peace was to evacuate Canadians who are stranded in Nigeria back to Canada and bring back Nigerian citizens from Canada on its return leg. This arrangement by the FG was refused by the Canadian commission which had already engaged Ethiopian Airlines to evacuate its citizens from Nigeria, while Nigerians in Canada would be brought back into the country on the return leg by the East African carrier.

A source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Canadian High Commission insisted that Ethiopian Airlines should do the evacuation because it was evacuating their citizens from other African countries despite the fact that Air Peace cost less.

A document obtained from the Canada High Commission two weeks ago, directed that passengers should pay $2, 500 to Ethiopian Airlines; while Air Peace charged $1, 134 for the same flight.

But despite a statement from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, saying that only domestic airlines will evacuate Nigerians abroad,
a letter from the Nigeria High Commission in Nigeria, dated May 20, 2020 with the reference number: NHC/OTT/ADM.56/I with the head: Update on the Flight Postponement,’ indicates that the government has bowed to pressure from the Canadian government by opting out of the Air Peace arrangement due to ‘safety concerns’.

The government in the letter agreed that Air Peace airfare was the most convenient and cost effective of all the airlines contacted for the airlift of Nigerians back to the country, but the concern of Canadian Government compelled it to cancel the agreement with the airline.

The letter read in part: “The mission therefore engaged a number of airlines and eventually came up with an arrangement and pricing structure with Air Peace, which no other airline was able to match. You will recall that in our Public Notice of 12th May, 2020, the High Commission announced that the Canadian government had expressed reservations concerning the granting of the necessary clearance/landing permit to Air Peace to fly into Canada, due to safety concerns.”

“Kindly be informed that after protracted engagement, the Canadian Government, has unfortunately reverted with what appears to be a final refusal. As a result, the Air Peace Limited arrangement is hereby cancelled.

“During the negotiations with Air Peace Limited, the issue of refunds was addressed in the event that the flight did not hold die to unforeseen circumstances and as such, everyone will get refunds for their tickets, from Air Peace Limited as agreed.

“In the meantime, the Nigeria High Commission is working assiduously to secure an alternative arrangement to get you home as soon as possible, safely and at the least cost, further updates would be communicated in due course.”

In a notice to the evacuees, Air Peace admitted that there were arrangements to evacuate Nigerians but that the Canadian government refused to give it landing permit. The airline said it will refund money paid as fare and will also bear the cost of the bank charges.

It said: “We regretfully wish to inform you that we have not been given landing permit by Canada as at today. We are not unaware of the trauma the protracted delay has caused you.
We do not want to continue holding on to this for your sake. We truly care for our people hence the kind of fare we asked you to pay for your trip to which you did gladly pay.

“You have waited for this opportunity to fly, proudly, a Nigerian airline to this destination but it was not meant to be.
We are a nation that believe in God Almighty. In this and, for everything, may we gladly be thankful to God. Our trust is in Almighty God. He is our refuge.
To this end therefore, we humbly request that you apply for a refund of the money you paid for this trip. We are giving you everything you paid to us; we shall bear the cost of the bank charges ourselves. An African airline has been chosen. Please do kindly go over to them as soon as you can so you are not left behind.

Our love for our country is not shaken by this situation. We thank our Federal Government for standing firmly behind us but there was so much they could do.”

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