Nigeria’s Aviation Ministry says it is “working hard” to release trapped funds to Emirates Airline after the airline suspended flights to Nigeria starting next month.
Emirates announced in a statement Thursday that it has suspended flight operations in and out of Nigeria due to its inability to repatriate funds from the West African country.
The airline said “there has been no progress” in reaching out to Nigerian authorities for a solution.
“Emirates has tried all avenues to address our current challenges in repatriating funds from Nigeria and has made considerable efforts to initiate a dialogue with the relevant authorities for their urgent intervention to help find a viable solution. Regrettable that there has been no progress ”, Emirates said in a statement.
The decision comes after Emirates announced last month it was cutting flights to Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, with the airline saying it was unable to access its $85 million worth of funds held in the country. The stalled funds had increased by more than $10 million each month, the airline said in a letter to Nigerian Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika.
Sirika told CNN that the trapped funds will be released as it was not the first time Nigeria had withheld large amounts of revenue belonging to foreign airlines.
“In the past, Nigeria has shown the ability, the will and the fairness to solve these types of problems. It happened when we came into power in 2015: there were a lot of funds blocked, about $600 million at the time. It was at a time when the country was in a recession and there was a decrease in income coming into the country, but we fulfilled our obligation to pay all those blocked funds,” Sirika told CNN on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, due to many factors and reasons, the money was accumulated again. The government is working hard to ensure these funds are released, not just for Emirates but for all affected airlines,” Sirika added.
Sirika added that “mechanisms will be put in place to ensure this does not happen in the future.”
The minister did not elaborate on what the factors were, although Nigeria is dealing with foreign exchange shortage which has restricted access to foreign currency for imports.
In early June, the International Air Transport Association said that Nigeria was retaining $450 million income belonging to foreign carriers operating in the country.
local currency has been in free fall against the dollar with most of the country’s foreign currency derived from the sale of crude oil, which has been reduced due to the theft of oil in the producing communities. The government is also burdened with the high cost of subsidizing fuel for local consumption.
Nigeria is one of the largest markets in Africa for international carriers.
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