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COVID-19: Charter Airlines Defy Fly Ban, Fly Rich Nigerians Abroad


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Some charter airlines have begun offering services to members of the public despite a ban on international flights by the Federal Government due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunday Punch has learnt.

It was also learnt that some commercial flights that were contracted by foreign missions to evacuate stranded citizens from Nigeria were also being used to convey passengers at an extra fee.

According to multiple Ministry of Aviation and airline sources, several Nigerians and foreigners have been travelling in and out of the country via the private charter and evacuation flights.

A top source at the Ministry of Aviation told Sunday Punch that the process of seeking approval from the ministry had become very easy and porous hence the current development.

While passengers with very deep pockets patronise charter airlines, others without the means join evacuation flights that have been commercialised.

“If you have a valid American residence/passport or British visa and the right money, I get you on a flight by Sunday morning,” a source in the ministry boasted.

When asked to explain, he stated,

“If you own a private jet, all you need to do is write a letter to the minister indicating that you need to travel for medical reasons. And you would be given approval almost immediately. Once you are given the approval, you can add people to the flight under the guise that they are your personal staff or family members.

“These people who are supposed family members or personal aides are actually passengers who could pay you between $4,000 and $8,000 and sometimes $14, 000 depending on your destination and the kind of aeroplane you are flying.”

The official explained that nobody really investigates who is being conveyed on the plane.

He recalled what happened in the case of Musician, Azeez Fashola, aka Naira Marley, who travelled with several others from Lagos to Abuja to attend a concert during the ban on local flights.

The official added,

“If you recall the case of Naira Marley, Executive Jet Services which flew him had received approval from the ministry under the guise that it was flying an Appeal Court Judge, Justice Adefope Okogie, from Lagos to Abuja.

“The names of Naira Marley and nine others were on the list but different names were given to the control tower by the captain and everything went smoothly and they would have got away with it if not for the controversy generated by the concert. That is how things have been going on in the aviation sector lately.”

On the evacuation flights, the official further explained that some officials of foreign missions were colluding with some international commercial airlines to fly Nigerians in and out of the country.

He explained that when some flights come for evacuation, they also take some Nigerian citizens at a different and more expensive fee.

The official stated,

“Most times, when they want to evacuate foreign nationals, the ambassador of the foreign country would write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the approval is usually automatic, based on international law.

“Once they get the approval, a letter is sent to the Ministry of Aviation which gives the final approval. These approvals are given automatically. Once the planes arrive, they evacuate their citizens along with Nigerians who have valid visas. Don’t you find it strange that more evacuations are going on now than during the lockdown itself?

“Have you asked yourself why during this ban on flights, several artistes and VIPs have been travelling to give birth abroad?

“I know several international airlines that have been doing this. The two biggest culprits are based in Western Europe. They come on a regular basis under the pretext that they want to evacuate and then move Nigerians along with them.”

A former chief executive officer of a local airline said many people he knew had been travelling in and out of the country in the past few months through the so-called evacuation flights.

 

The source said,

“I have a friend that has travelled three times to the United States of America in the past four months. He just left Lagos last night again on one of the European airlines which have been running evacuation flights. He has American permanent residence too. So it is easy for him to join the evacuation flights.”

He added,

“It is common knowledge. Why do you have more evacuation flights these days when the lockdown is over? Some of the foreign airlines have commercialised it, even though those approvals come from their foreign missions.”

– Punch

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