On 1st October 2020, Nigerians were ecstatic to see the Burj Khalifa lit with the colours of the Nigerian flag for our Independence Day celebration. Many did not know the drama behind that gesture or why it meant a lot to Nigerian tourists. So we want to give you the full gist of what happened and why it was significant.
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The Burj Khalifa is a sky scrapper 828m tall with over 163 floors; it’s been the tallest building in the world since 2009. To light up Burj Khalifa in green-white-green would cost about N25.9million if Nigeria had paid for it. But on this occasion, the current tallest building in Dubai was lit for us free. This was done to celebrate the growing bilateral relations Nigeria has with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The meaning was announced by the UAE Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Fahad Al Taffaq, on Twitter.
This action is not exclusive to Nigeria. Other countries have also had their flag colours on the Burj Khalifa in honor of their independence day. This diplomatic act is managed by Emaar Properties.
Speaking of diplomatic gestures between countries, as at 22nd August 2020, about 252 stranded Nigerians in Dubai were still being evacuated back home with Emirates Airline. 180 persons on that flight had their tickets paid for by the UAE government. There were 18 flights and 4,984 Nigerians in Dubai being brought home and about 1,071 people’s flights paid for by the UAE government. So this goes to show that we have good bilateral relations with the UAE government. Besides evacuation flights, Nigeria did not open its borders for international travel till 5th September 2020, meaning there was no non-essential travel between Nigeria and UAE.
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So where did the claims of a travel ban against Nigeria come from?
Nigeria’s international airspace was closed on the onset of COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria around March. The delay in international flight resumption from the scheduled 29th August to 5th September 2020 was for non-aviation logistics and COVID-19 protocol readiness. At which time, many airlines applied to resume operations in Nigeria and were waiting for approval from the Nigerian government. And when we did open up for international travel, we based entry into Nigeria on reciprocity.
But yet there were reports of Nigerians on social media since July 2020 of being turned away from renewing their visas and being advised to exit the country. Rumours of visa bans for fresh applicants applying for tourist visas were not in short supply. People observed that these changes came shortly after the much-publicised arrest of the internet fraudster, HushPuppi and company during the COVID-19 lockdown. On the 6th of August 2020, the UAE had to refute any claims of a travel ban on Nigerians in an official statement. In their defence, they said the temporal suspension of visas was in line with COVID-19 protocols.
On the 19th of September, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, announced a ban on Emirates airlines from operating in Nigeria. It was to take effect on the 21st of September. UAE’s Emirates airline was not the only one affected by the ban, the same applied for many other countries’ airlines which did not reciprocate a similar courtesy. A week later, the travel ban on tourist visas by UAE was reversed in hopes of restoring the fracture in the bilateral relationship. Nigeria is the third biggest revenue stream for Emirates Airline.
Days after the Burj Khalifa was lit, UAE confirmed that visa issuance would commence on the 8th of October 2020. They expect travellers to have a return ticket, hotel booking, negative PCR test and health insurance before receiving their visas. Here, the lighting of the Burj Khalifa was a show of goodwill towards Nigeria. This gesture that has paid off with Emirates Airline being allowed back into the Nigerian Airspace.
Featured Image Source: Nigeria Defender
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