Evacuation of Nigerians stranded in Canada which was slated for May 14 has been frustrated by an alleged pact between the Canadian High Commission and Ethiopian Airlines.
It would be recalled that the Nigerian High Commission in Canada announced last Monday that Nigerian carrier, Ai Peace would airlift stranded Nigerians from the Pearson International Airport, Toronto and Calgary International Airport, Alberta to Abuja where the evacuees would be moved into isolation for 14 days.
However, NewsGazette gathered that the Canadian High Commission would rather prefer the East African carrier to Nigeria’s Air Peace which the federal government had already designated for the exercise.
A source at the ministry of foreign affairs said the Canadian High Commission had opened talks with Ethiopia Airlines, which evacuated Canadian citizens from different parts of Africa to Canada.
It was also gathered that the High Commission had directed the intending passengers to pay $2, 500 to Ethiopian Airlines while Air Peace charges $1, 134.
It was also learnt that some 319 passengers had already paid to the Nigerian carrier which had also concluded plans to operate full flight to the North American country.
The would-be passengers, according to a document, were asked to pay for Flight ET3900 from Lagos to Addis-Ababa that would depart Lagos by 1:00pm Nigerian time on May 18, 2020.
The passengers were also instructed to use the booking code LOSYYZ, valid only for May 15, 2020.
Shocked by the development, an official of Air Peace who craved anonymity said the carrier had successfully flown to 40 countries, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
He also stated that it was the airline that evacuated Israeli citizens from Nigeria late March.
“We have done many international flights, including landing in Canada. We have made 19 flights to the United States of America since 2014. We have flown to Tel-Aviv several times and in March we evacuated over 200 Israelis from Nigeria back during this COVID-19 lockdown.
“We have scheduled flight operations to United Arab Emirates. We have also flown to UK, Ireland, China, Turkey, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland and other countries.
“We have IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification and we are member of IATA. We have also evacuated Nigerians from South Africa during the Xenophobia attack of Africans there. We are grateful to the federal government and the ministry of aviation for all the support it is giving Air Peace and other ingenious carriers,” he said.
For his part, the former director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Mr. Benedict Adeyileka described as “political” the action of the Canadian High Commission and urged the federal government to be firm on a Nigerian carrier conducting the operation.
“I don’t agree with what is happening. It is very political and Ethiopian Airlines is playing a dangerous game.
“Ethiopian has new aircraft but it was Boeing 767 it deployed to airlift Nigerians from the US and some of the passengers complained, even as they paid higher fares to the airline. But Air Peace is deploying Boeing 777 for the evacuation.
“I am a nationalist to the core. Anything Nigerian is good enough as long as it is qualified to carry out the operation and Air Peace has international operation experience.
“I insist that the Nigerian government should put its foot down on this. Nigerian carriers should not be stopped from conducting international operations,” he said.
Meanwhile, NewsGazette gathered that the federal government through the ministries of aviation and foreign affairs had waded into the matter, insisting that Air Peace has to operate the flight in tandem with its new position that all evacuation flights must be conducted by Nigerian carriers.