Nigerian kidnappers now target dual citizens, US warns travellers - PUNCH
BY Noah Banjo
The United States has warned travellers to Nigeria, especially US citizens, to reconsider their trip as kidnappers now target citizens with dual nationalities.
The US State Department’s Nigeria Travel Advisory dated January 4, 2022, noted that US citizens with perceived wealth are also targets for kidnappers.
The advisory also stated listed some states US citizens should not travel to or stay vigilant when visiting adding that “Violent crime such as armed robbery, assault, carjacking, kidnapping, hostage-taking, banditry, and rape is common throughout the country.
“Kidnappings for ransom occur frequently, often targeting dual national citizens who have returned to Nigeria for a visit, as well as U.S. citizens with perceived wealth. Kidnapping gangs have also stopped victims on interstate roads.”
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The US warned citizens against travelling to Borno, Yobe, and Northern Adamawa states because “The security situation in these states is fluid and unpredictable due to widespread terrorist activity, inter-communal violence, and kidnapping. Security operations to counter these threats may occur without warning.
“Terrorist groups based in the Northeast routinely target humanitarian camps, security forces, churches, schools, mosques, government installations, educational institutions, entertainment venues, and road travellers.”
It added that travel to Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, and Zamfara states should be reconsidered due to roadside banditry and unexpected counter-attacks from security agencies.
“The security situation in these states is fluid and unpredictable due to widespread inter-communal violence and armed criminality, especially kidnapping and roadside banditry. Security operations to counter these threats may occur without warning,” the advisory warned.
The US also warned that the danger is not restricted to the northern part of the country listing coastal areas such as Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, and Rivers states (with the exception of Port Harcourt) as places US citizens should avoid travelling to.
“Crime is rampant throughout Southern Nigeria, and there is a heightened risk of kidnapping and maritime crime, especially in the Gulf of Guinea. Violent civil unrest and armed militancy persist in these areas,” the advisory added.
INVESTIGATION: Canada Rush: What desperate Nigerian asylum seekers are telling Canada about Nigeria - PREMIUM TIMES
Some Nigerians moving to Canada are telling immigration officials they are fleeing persecution over their sexual orientation, gender, and religious affiliations.
By March this year, it will be three years since Gbenga Akinkunmi began scrambling to be granted asylum in Canada, based on unsubstantiated claim that almost every non-state actor in Nigeria was after his life and those of his family members.
In court documents reviewed by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Akinkunmi claimed he fled from his home in Plateau State, north-central Nigeria, while his wife and two children fled elsewhere after members of the terrorist Boko Haram sect came after him for challenging herders who encroached on his property. He claimed that before that incident, he had survived two earlier attacks from the herders.
In Warri where he claimed he initially fled to, he said he was again kidnapped by Niger Delta militants and that he only escaped after paying a part of the ransom the abductors demanded.
Mr Akinkunmi said he later fled to New York on March 11, 2018, using a valid U.S. visa. The next day, he entered Canada and made a refugee claim the next year before the Canadian Refugee Protection Division (RPD), claiming he narrowly escaped being killed by militias in Nigeria.
His claim was rejected by immigration authorities, with the jury saying he could have embraced an internal flight alternative (IFA) in neighbouring Benin City if Plateau and Warri were unsafe. This means he should have sought refuge in another city in Nigeria rather than fleeing to Canada.
Benin City is 96.7 kilometres away from Warri and can be reached by car in about two hours. According to the transportation measurement platform, travel math, the total flight duration between airports in the two cities is 37 minutes.
After his application was rejected, Mr Akinkunmi petitioned the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD), arguing that Warri was too close to Benin and that deadly militants could be on his trail there. In Benin, he said, his six-year-old daughter risked forced genital mutilation. His appeal was dismissed.
With deportation imminent, last July, he sought the review of the verdict before the Federal Court of Canada. Again, his case was rejected.
“There was no credible evidence to establish, on a balance of probabilities,” Justice Walker ruled, “that Mr Akinkunmi and his wife and daughter had been persecuted or threatened by his family or that the feared family members had been able to locate them since 2017.”
Like Mr Akinkunmi, Prince Mctony Aire, 33, could also not convince authorities to grant him asylum in Canada. He had told a panel there that Islamic extremists and security forces in Nigeria were after him because he was bisexual. He claimed he was “detained, tortured and issued death threats” in Zaria, north-western Nigeria, before fleeing to Canada.
His case was dismissed by Justice von Finckenstein, who doubted his narratives and upheld a decision that the claimant faced less risk if he relocated to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, which is 958 kilometres away from Zaria and can be reached by road in 12 hours and by air in an hour 22 minutes.
Analysing the Canada rush
The immigration cases involving Messrs Akinkunmi and Aire are among those concerning 300 Nigerians that we accessed and reviewed.
Documents detailing the cases are held by the Federal Court of Canada (FCC) and at least 5,000 pages of them were analysed by PREMIUM TIMES. They revealed what Nigerians are telling Canadian immigration authorities to claim asylum in the North American country.
This newspaper’s yearlong examination of the immigration documents showed a striking pattern of claims made by the Nigerian applicants. Nigerians seeking residency in Canada have more than tripled since 2015 when it rose from about 4,000 to nearly 13,000 in 2019.
A 2020 survey conducted by the Africa Polling Institute (API), a non-profit research think-tank, found the key “push factors” for the exodus of Nigerian immigrants to Canada to be due to Nigeria’s weak economy, heightened insecurity, perceived poor governance and the huge appetites for foreign degrees by citizens.
While these may be the underlying reasons for the exodus to Canada, some prospective Nigerian asylees sometimes make up stories about their personal situations and state of affairs in their country to convince authorities to grant them stay in one of the world’s most developed countries.
In the documents we reviewed, majority of the asylum seekers, 270, gave a single reason for wanting to leave Nigeria. The remaining 30 applicants gave more than one reason.
Majority of the claimants, 52, or 19 per cent, claimed they needed to escape persecution due to their sexual orientation.
“This positions Nigeria as a country where sexual rights are not considered as human rights, and it opens spaces for conversation on the rights of the people in the LGBTQ communities,” Kudus Adebayo, a research fellow on diaspora and transnational studies at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The country becomes a place where people can be forced out of their communities, separated from their families and lives because of their sexual orientation,” he added.
Alerted by this in 2017, Legal Aid Ontario which provides legal services for low-income people said it found an “unusual” pattern in sexual orientation claims by Nigerian asylees in Canada, a worrying trend it said may sometimes be fabricated.
“It galls me because of the potential impact that it could have on the refugee system and the Canadian public’s perception of refugee claimants and refugees in a very vulnerable time globally,” Jawad Kassab, who leads the agency’s refugee and immigration programme, said. The agency declined comments on its latest position.
Mr Adebayo, who is also a postdoctoral fellow at the African Centre for Migration and Society, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, did not rule out the possibility of “an industry of emigration built around the narrative of sexuality and persecution of those in the LGBTQ community.”
“Those making money off the emigration economy would package travels around possible false claims of sexual persecution. This trend will surely make it difficult for the receiving states, that is Canada and others, to determine which claim should be granted and those to be rejected,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
When Legal Aid Ontario suggested in a letter that lawyers may be coaching clients to fabricate their stories, Richard Odeleye, an immigration lawyer, described the accusation as “insulting” and “discriminatory.”
“It’s almost like a war zone for homosexuals,” Mr Odeleye said of Nigeria to CBC News. “You cannot expect people to put up with that, and they have to leave.”
Other immigrants said they were fleeing Nigeria due to forced female genital mutilation (FGM) and cultural rituals, political and religious persecution, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), insecurity, attacks from militia and threat to life, domestic violence, socio-economic and family reasons.
The allure of Canada
Second only to Russia by land size, Canada’s total land area of approximately 3.9 million square miles (10 million square km) means it is about 11 times the size of Nigeria, or accounts for roughly the northern two-fifths of the continent of North America, or about half the size of South America.
But despite this spaciality sprawling beneath the grandeur of its arctic frozen tundra and archipelago, the bilingual country (English and French) is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
Nearly 80 per cent of Canada’s 38 million population live within 93 miles (150 kilometers) of the Canada-United States border, leaving a vast swathe of the nation’s territory unoccupied. Senior citizens outnumber children too.
Pressed by the push to expand its labour force by offsetting its aging population, Canada started an Express Entry programme in 2015, offering successful skilled workers permanent residency permits. This “pull factor” attracted tons of migrants.
In a quest for upward mobility, more than 7 in 10 Nigerians (73 per cent) would relocate abroad with their family members if they had an opportunity, the 2021 Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey published by API found.
This explains why Nigerians are enamoured of the Great White North as the exodus to the North American country has shown no sign of slowing down.
For the fifth year running, more Nigerians emigrated to Canada than the year before and the number of Nigerians granted permanent residency has more than tripled since 2015, rising from 4,090 to peak at 12,600 in 2019, before COVID-19 slowed it.
The spokesperson of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abdur-Rahman Balogun, said what informed this “may be Canadian immigration policy.”
Permanent residence permit issued to Nigerians from 2015.This growth rate outstrips India, China and Philippines, Canada’s top three sources of immigrants over the last five years.
“Exiting the country is a survival strategy for millions (of Nigerians), and this is clear from what we can call the ‘Japa Movement’ of the last few years,” Mr Adebayo said, adding that “exodus of any category of the population means that a country loses human resources to the receiving countries.”
Still, Mr Balogun said the insatiable crave by Nigerians to migrate abroad is not a case of brain drain but rather “brain gain (and) investment opportunities.”
“We are harvesting our human resources for national development. Hence our initiative on Nigeria diaspora investment summit, Door of Return, National Diaspora Day on every July 25 and celebration of our diaspora icons as done in September. Over 600 of them were celebrated across various fields and sectors,” he said, downplaying the potential collapse of the nation’s skilled population and shrinking middle-class.
Aminat, 19, accompanied by her mother, Agnes, and her father, Ademola Adeniji-Adele, entered Canada on August 30, 2015 on a student visa.
died, leaving behind a treasure trove which included an estate but without a will.
Agnes and her daughter later sought asylum in Canada claiming that the administrator of Mr Adeniji-Adele’s estate insisted on not paying the family its due except Aminat returns to Nigeria, marries his friend’s son, denounces Christianity, and returns to Islam, court transcripts read.
Agnes claimed the executor paid for her trip to Canada to bring Aminat back to Nigeria, the documents showed. Instead, on June 7, 2017 Agnes took her son, Musediku, 17, with her to Canada and refused to return to Nigeria.
“The executor has ceased to fund Aminat’s education, and has cut off Agnes’ monthly allowance from her husband’s estate,” the asylum seekers told the court.
“Furthermore, some of the news reports submitted by the applicants were irrelevant to their personal circumstances,” the court ruled. “One example was a CNN World article that described women who were arrested in Abuja and assaulted by the police based on the suspicion they were working as prostitutes.
“Others concerned challenges encountered by the population in general, such as homelessness, unemployment, pollution and unsafe drinking water. These problems were said to be particularly severe for those who are impoverished or lack family connections. However, by their own account the Applicants are members of a wealthy and distinguished family, most of whose members continue to be well disposed towards them.
“The Applicants adduced no evidence to substantiate their assertion that the Executor would have access to government or corporate databases, would be able to trace them through their mobile telephone SIM cards, and would therefore be able to locate them in the Internal Flight Alternatives, IFAs (other Nigerian cities). There was no evidence of the extent of public awareness of the Applicants’ surname outside Lagos.
“The onus was on the Applicants to demonstrate that the proposed IFAs were unsuitable. They were unable to meet this high threshold. The Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) found that the Applicants have a comparatively high level of education and supportive relatives in Nigeria, including the Applicant children’s numerous adult half-siblings. The Applicants speak English, which is Nigeria’s official language and is widely used in both Port Harcourt and Abuja. The Applicants have not demonstrated that any of these findings by the RAD were unreasonable.
“The RAD’s reasoning is transparent and intelligible. There was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Applicants will not have access to housing and clean drinking water in the IFAs, be unable to find employment, or be denied their family’s support.”
The FCC archives the court details of asylees on its portal. So, PREMIUM TIMES conducted a yearlong analysis of a third of the over 900 court transcripts of Nigerians seeking asylum in Canada, mining details of their cases and inputting them into a spreadsheet.
The portal randomly sorts the cases by “relevance” and “date.” We sorted by “relevance” which returned all-encompassing randomness in terms of demography, date of, and reason for migration.
In all, our data captured about a third of all the immigration cases of Nigerians the FCC has published as of December 2021. The cases ranged from individual to joint applications, usually families.
It represents the largest collection and publication of private data on the immigration claims made by Nigerians seeking refugee status in the Great White North and the outcome of their applications.
While more than two-thirds of the 300 cases analysed arrived in Canada directly from Nigeria — usually on private visits, a stopover or via irregular border crossing — others entered from outside Nigeria, a majority of them from the U.S. and Europe.
In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “to those fleeing persecution, terror (and) war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” Some believe that comment triggered an unprecedented surge in asylum applications in the country.
Even though he added, “you will not be at an advantage if you choose to enter Canada irregularly. You must follow the rules and there are many,” it did not deter the rise in the influx.
At least 25 of the 300 cases analysed entered Canada that year, the highest recorded in a single year.
In his own application for asylum, 47-year-old Port Harcourt-based poultry farmer, Edirin Richard Enamejewa, claimed he was accused of being a member of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) while visiting Aba, southeast Nigeria, for business. He said he was arrested, beaten and detained by the police for a week.
He claimed he was released on bail after paying a bribe and was instructed to report to the police station every two weeks, an obligation he continued to meet. He said the police, however, kept threatening him with arrest and at a point forced him to pay a further bribe.
With the police and the military still on his trail, he jumped bail in October 2017 when he went on vacation in Canada. There, he made a claim for refugee protection but it was rejected. In a decision dated November 26, 2018, the RPD rejected the applicant’s claim because it found that he was not credible. The applicant subsequently appealed the RPD’s decision to the RAD.
In its verdict dated September 6, 2019, the RAD confirmed the RPD’s decision and rejected the applicant’s claim for refugee protection.
“Upon appeal to the RAD, the Applicant claimed that three policemen entered the Applicant’s farm on November 23, 2018 and asked the employees about the Applicant’s whereabouts,” court document said. “When the employees informed the police that they did not know where the Applicant was located or how to contact him, the police assaulted one of the employees.
“The Applicant submitted evidence to corroborate the November 23, 2018 police attack, but the RAD found that all of the Applicant’s new evidence was inadmissible and accordingly dismissed his request for an oral hearing. On the merits of the Applicant’s claim, the RAD held that the Applicant was not credible. The RAD found that the Applicant failed to adequately explain how he could miss multiple appointments with the police without facing consequences, and why he did not attempt to clear his name of the accusation that he was an IPOB member.”
He then took the case to the Federal Court of Canada for judicial review of the RAD’s decision. On April 12, 2021, Justice Ahmed of the FCC overturned the judgements, returning the matter “for redetermination by a differently constituted panel.” The judge faulted the RAD for unreasonably refusing to admit the new evidence submitted by the Applicant upon appeal.
Despite citing a similar reason as Mr Enamejewa, Douglas Eluomuno Chinwuba was not as lucky upon appeals after he filed an inland claim for refugee protection a month after his study permit application was denied in May 201.
Mr Chinwuba, a CEO of a company in Nigeria, was, in July 2015, granted a visitor’s visa to Canada. Between June and September 2016, he travelled to Canada to help his son who was enrolled at Ryerson University. In January 2017, the applicant again traveled to Canada and in February 2017 was himself accepted into Humber College in Canada. In May 2017, his application for a study permit was denied.
“In June 2017, the Applicant filed an inland claim for refugee protection alleging fear of persecution by the Directorate of State Security (DSS) and other security agents in Nigeria due to his political opinions and for being a suspected supporter of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) organization,” court document said of Mr Chinwuba’s case. “He claims to have been arrested, beaten, and detained by the DSS in October 2016 for a week until his lawyer provided proof that he had no connection with the IPOB.”
Mr Chinwuba claimed SSS agents in Nigeria continued to search for him and were asking his wife about his whereabouts. The Refugee Protection Division rejected his claim on October 24, 2017, on the basis of credibility. He appealed the decision but he lost, with the Refugee Appeal Division saying it found the Applicant’s responses to the RPD’s questions asking him to elaborate on his allegations as vague.
“The RAD agreed that the RPD’s findings that the Applicant’s allegations based upon his perceived involvement with the IPOB were inconsistent, and the RAD found no error in the RPD’s negative credibility findings in this regard,” court documents say. “Regarding the other documentary evidence that was considered by the RPD, the RAD agreed that there were clear irregularities and inconsistencies with these documents that raised concerns about the Applicant’s overall truthfulness and concerns about the reliability of his documentation.”
Mr Chinwuba then sought judicial review of the verdict at the Federal Court of Canada. But in a March 13, 2019 judgment, Madam Justice Ann Marie McDonald agreed with the RAD and RPD the applicant lacked credibility and in the absence of independent and credible documentary evidence, rejected the request for judicial review.
PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation revealed a confluence of reasons Nigerian gave for fleeing from their country. The reasons were categorised into 13.
Fifty-two (52) applicants (19.3 per cent) sought refuge because they were allegedly persecuted for their sexual orientation. Thirty-seven (37) said they they left Nigeria because of forced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) (13.7 per cent). Another 32 (11.9 per cent) said political persecution drove them away from home. About 22 (8.1 per cent) cited sexual based violence as reason for seeking asylum while 24 (8.9 per cent) claimed they no longer feel secure in Nigeria due to insecurity.
At least 19 asylum seekers said their lives were threatened by militias. Another 13 (4.8 per cent) claimed they suffered religious persecution, cultural rituals and socio-economic suppression. Domestic violence was cited by 12 (4.4 per cent) applicants. Those seeking asylum to enable them obtain foreign degrees were 11 (4.1 per cent) while 10 applicants (3.7 per cent) gave family reason for wanting protection in Canada.
In all, sexual orientation was cited as reason 57 times, FGM 56 times, political persecution 34, SGBV 30, insecurity 28, militia and threat to life 20, religious persecution 20, cultural rituals 17, domestic violence 16, socio-economic 15, family reason 13, studies 11, residency permit 11, healthcare 8.
Officials have also grown suspicious of the claims and they have tightened measures to determine what story to believe and those to reject.
As a result, 198 (66 per cent) of the cases considered were dismissed while the remaining 102 were admitted for reconsideration.
For those whose cases were dismissed, it is usually because the court believes their stories were not credible or have internal flight alternatives like Benin City as was the case of Mr Akinkunmi, or Port Harcourt and Abuja as was for the Adeniji-Adeles.
Ehiosun Elvis Omijie, 26, a 2015 economics graduate of Ambrose Alli University, was one of those whose case was granted.
Despite submitting proof of full tuition payment of $16,084 CAD having been admitted to study applied business administration at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology [NAIT], a visa officer turned down his student visa request.
Suspicious that some Nigerian applicants were making up stories, Canadian authorities have continued to tighten the procedures for immigration admittance. On December 20, 2021, Justice Andrew D. Little of the Federal Court of Canada gave a judgment dismissing claims by a family of five which claimed Fulani herders were after their lives.
He said in early 2018, he came into conflict with Fulani herdsmen. He claimed several herdsmen led their cattle to graze on his land and declined to leave. Mr Igwe said he contacted local police and filed a report about the trespass, but that the police refused to assist. He said he and several other farmers then resolved to confront the herdsmen on their own. In Mr Igwe’s words, they formed a “vigilante” group.
Mr Igwe further told Canadian authorities that on February 2, 2018, he led the vigilante group and apprehended four herdsmen on a nearby farm. He said his team took the herdsmen into custody and presented them at the local police station. He claimed that within a few hours, the police released the herdsmen, despite the citizen’s arrests and the applicant’s previously filed report.
At about 10 p.m. on the same night, he said he received a threatening phone call. He recognised the caller’s voice as belonging to the leader of the local herdsmen, Musa Danladi. The caller, he said, threatened to kill him and the other group members in retaliation for the citizen’s arrests. He claimed the caller vowed the herdsmen would find the group members even if they fled from Akumazi. Mr Igwe said he reported the phone call to police.
Mr Igwe said early on February 4, 2018, someone set fire to his family compound. Mr Igwe claimed he awoke at 3:00 a.m. to a neighbour shouting “fire.” As he ran outside, he heard gunshots and shouting in the language spoken by the Fulani herdsmen. He glimpsed the arsonists fleeing on motorbike, but did not get a good look at them. Mr Igwe said he reported the event to police the next morning. The police agreed to look into the matter.
But the Canadian immigration authorities apparently did not buy his narrative. From the Refugee Protection Department to the Refugee Appeal Department and to the Federal Court of Canada where he took his case at different times, he was simply told to seek refuge in any other Nigerian city if he and his family feel unsafe in Lagos and Delta.
His next steps in the desperate push for residency in Canada remain unclear. And so are the fates of several others in his shoes.
COVID: Pre-departure tests and travel isolation scrapped in England - SKYNEWS
Airlines UK and Manchester Airports Group say current restrictions come at a huge cost to the travel industry and are holding back its recovery.
Pre-departure testing will no longer be required for travellers returning to England and arrivals will not have to isolate until they get a negative PCR test.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons the pre-departure measure, introduced a month ago, will be removed as the Omicron variant is now so prevalent the measure is "having limited impact".
From 4am on Friday, people returning to England will not have to take pre-departure tests, the PM said.
He also announced that people arriving in England will no longer have to isolate until they get a negative PCR test, but will instead have to take a lateral flow test at the end of day two after arriving.
If that is positive they will then have to take a confirmatory PCR test to help identify any new variants.
The changes come after trade body Airlines UK and Manchester Airports Group called for the removal of all COVID testing restrictions, saying it would have no real impact on Omicron numbers.
Karen Dee, head of the Airport Operators Association, said removing the restrictions "is a welcome recognition that they no longer serve a purpose, now Omicron is well-established in the UK".
She said the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments should follow suit and added that airports are still facing difficulties as other countries have imposed restrictions on UK arrivals, while consumer confidence "has been knocked during the crucial Christmas booking period".
Recent figures showed one in 25 people in England had COVID-19 just before Christmas.
Currently, fully vaccinated travellers into the UK must take a pre-departure test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.
Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days after they arrive.
Last month, the government removed all 11 countries on its travel "red list", partly reversing the tightening of restrictions in order to contain the spread of Omicron from abroad.
Airlines UK said at the time that costly testing and isolation measures imposed on travellers ought to be removed too for the same reason and has now reiterated that plea.
The trade body and MAG - which operates Manchester, London Stanstead and East Midlands airports - cited research they had commissioned from consultancy Oxera and analytics firm Edge Health to make the latest call.
They said the research showed the removal of all testing requirements on international travel this month would not impact the spread of Omicron in the UK.
It also found that the introduction of pre-departure and day two PCR testing in late November and early December respectively had little impact on the spread of Omicron in the UK, compared to a scenario where the policy of a single, day two antigen test remained the same.
The companies said the tightening of travel restrictions hurt the sector last month, with MAG estimating a 30% hit to its recovery in passenger numbers.
Fears over the Omicron variant and tighter restrictions imposed before Christmas have already been revealed to have had an impact on demand for Tui and Ryanair.
But hopes that conditions will ease - in the light of suggestions that Omicron will be cause less serious illness than other variants - have in recent days created a more optimistic outlook for the aviation sector.
Shares in British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) and other airlines rose sharply on Tuesday, helping London stock indices enjoy a strong bounce on the first day of new year trading.
Covid: Pre-departure travel tests have outlived their usefulness - Shapps - BBC
The current Covid testing system for people travelling to England has "outlived its usefulness", Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says, as Omicron is now "widespread and worldwide".
Ahead of a rule change later this week, he said the system - introduced to slow Omicron's spread - had "done its part".
Pre-departure tests will end for fully vaccinated travellers and day two PCRs will be replaced by lateral flow tests.
Mr Shapps said ministers would "ensure a stable system is in place for 2022".
The shake-up, announced on Wednesday, came after travel firms said the measures were not effective now Omicron was spreading widely.
Under the current rules in force until Friday, all fully vaccinated travellers over the age of 12 must show proof of a negative lateral flow or PCR test taken in the two days before coming to the UK. Fully vaccinated people must also pay for a PCR test within two days of arrival and self-isolate while waiting for the result.
People who aren't fully vaccinated must currently take PCR tests on both day two and day eight after arriving, and self-isolate for 10 days.
But under the new rules:
- From 04:00 GMT on Friday: fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s will no longer need to take a pre-departure test two days before travelling to England. On arrival, they will have to take a PCR test but won't have to self-isolate while awaiting the result
- From 04:00 GMT on Sunday: they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test on day two. This test must be bought from a private provider - free NHS tests are not allowed
- Unvaccinated passengers will need to continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight, and to self-isolate for 10 days
People going abroad should continue to check the travel rules for their destination country.
Scotland's health minister Humza Yousaf spoke of his "frustration" that the changes were announced for England only, despite UK-wide talks on what the rules should be. He said he would give an update on Thursday afternoon, while Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan said Wales would "reluctantly" align with England.
Northern Ireland has confirmed it will also follow suit.
Dr Sarah Pitt, virologist at the University of Brighton, said it was "sensible" to test people before they got on a plane, as about one in three people who have Covid do not have symptoms but can be infectious to others.
"It's not that you're a special risk from having been travelling, but people should be testing themselves regularly anyway," she said.
PCR tests have been used for travellers as they can detect if someone has the Omicron variant, unlike lateral flow tests.
Asked whether the rule change could mean new variants are missed among people arriving from abroad, he said anyone who had a positive lateral flow test must get a PCR test via the NHS so it can be checked for new variants using sequencing techniques.
Mr Shapps said the UK had a much higher level of sequencing than any other country in the world, so it was tracking new variants very carefully "regardless of whether it starts here or somewhere else".
He warned that stricter travel measures could be reintroduced if another variant of concern emerged, and earlier tweeted that the rules would be reviewed by the end of the month.
The travel industry welcomed the relaxation of the rules.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the changes would make travel "much simpler and easier", as customers could now book and travel with "confidence".
Chief executive of travel association Abta, Mark Tanzer, said it was "potentially very positive", but that damage had "already been done".
"We now hope to see confidence return as we enter what is usually the peak booking season for summer holidays," he added.
Steve Heapy, boss of the airline Jet2, also said the timing of the announcement would make a "huge difference".
Flight Delays: Slot Allocation, Surcharge For Airlines Raise Dust - DAILY TRUST
There are mixed feelings in the aviation sector over the proposal for slots allocation for airlines operating scheduled flights, Daily Trust can report.
There are mixed feelings in the aviation sector over the proposal for slots allocation for airlines operating scheduled flights, Daily Trust can report.
By slot allocation, each airline would be allocated a slot for take-off and any operator failing to depart within the allotted time would be surcharged.
Those pushing for this argue that the system would minimise the avalanche of flight delays being experienced in recent times in the industry.
Airport Council International (ACI) describes Airport slots as “specific points in time allotted for an aircraft to land or take off at an airport.”
Daily Trust reports that though the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had mulled the introduction of slots especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing has been heard since then.
But with the capacity of the airport facilities constrained, stakeholders have recently mulled the idea, saying the system would reduce chaos, rowdiness and disorderliness at airport terminals.
It would be recalled that the Yuletide period was particularly chaotic at the Murtala Muhammad Airport domestic terminals with more passengers thronging both the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) and the MMA2.
However, with slots allocation, the proponents say this would not be the case as airlines would be cognisant of the take-off and landing time allocated to them and the attendant penalty for missing the allotted time.
The current situation where two or more airlines are struggling to take off at the same time and or land almost the same time, according to those pushing for slots allocation, breeds chaos and orderliness in the airport environment.
Former Commandant of the MMIA, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, rtd, who has been consistent in advocating for slots said it is the way to go especially in minimising incidents of flight delays.
According to him, the airport terminals “Are taking or pressurising more than they can ordinarily accommodate.”
But airlines are not comfortable with the suggestions, insisting the capacity constraint is a failure of the government to carry out facility upgrades at most of the airports.
For instance, they observe that the MMIA for instance was built to handle 300,000 passengers annually but it now handles over 8m passengers.
An airline operator said airlines cannot be blamed for airport congestion “If the airport management did not anticipate the peak period complications and prepare for it.”
Another airline official, Barr. Shehu Wada said airlines are not afraid of slot allocation if it can be well managed.
But he was quick to point out that such a system could be problematic especially when flights could not take off or land on account of bad weather.
He confirmed that the airport authority had mulled the idea but failed to follow up on it again.
When contacted, FAAN spokesperson, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu said there is presently no programme on ground for slots allocation to airlines.
U.K. House Prices Post Biggest Annual Gain Since 2007 - BLOOMBERG
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. house prices rose at the fastest pace since before the financial crisis in December after a sixth consecutive month of growth.
The average price of a home rose 1.1% last month to a record 276,091 pounds ($374,000), the mortgage lender said in a report published Friday. The gain from a year earlier was 9.8%, the most since July 2007.
It means a typical property has increased in value by more than 24,500 over the past 12 months. That’s the biggest gain in cash terms since 2003.
The housing market has defied the plight of the wider economy since the pandemic began, boosted by tax incentives, a shortage of stock and demand for properties outside urban areas with room to work from home. But momentum is almost certain to slow this year as stretched affordability, rising interest rates and a looming cost of living surge put household budgets under strain.
“Our expectation is that house prices will maintain their current strong levels, but that growth relative to the last two years will be at a slower pace,” said Russell Galley, managing director at Halifax. “However, there are many variables which could push house prices either way, depending on how the pandemic continues to impact the economic environment.”
- Wales registered the strong growth of any part of the U.K. last year, with prices surging by 14.5>#/li###
- The weakest growth was in London, where values edged up just 2.1>#/li###
- In England, the strongest-performing region was the North West, followed by the South West
Turkey Woos More Nigerians To Visit Bodrum - NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
By Wale Olapade
The City of Bodrum wants to take advantage of its special relationship with Nigeria to drive its tourism traffic.
The Mayor of the City of Bodrum, Ahmet Aras, recently hosted a Nigerian lead team invited for exploratory meetings led by Abuja based tour operator, Cecile Mambo Doumbe of CMD Tours.
The team included Ambassador Ikechi Uko, a travel expert and Adebayo Ajayi, the travel sultan of Abay Tours.
According to the Mayor, “Turkey has everything the Nigerian traveller wants. We have amazing shopping of top quality materials. We have wonderful destinations of which Bodrum is the best.
“The historical legends of Turkey are unparalleled for both Christians and Moslems. Anything you want we have and more.
“We want you to come and enjoy our Mediterranean culture within Asia. Bodrum is home to many ancient civilisations like Greece and the Island of Rhodes.
“We have the largest underwater museum in the world. AirBnB started from Bodrum over 50 years ago.
“We had no hotels and we gave our houses for bed and breakfast. But today we have the most luxurious vacations in Europe.
“I will be coming to Nigeria to market Bodrum and I invite Nigerians to the Mediterranean Tourism Expo in Bodrum taking place in October,” the Mayor said.
Earlier, the team, who were invited by Skywings Istanbul, was hosted to a city tour of Istanbul the city of two continents visiting the European and the Asian sides of Istanbul with visits to the world famous Hagia Sophia Church of Constantinople.
At a meeting with the Bodrum Hoteliers Association, the President, Omer F. Dengiz told them that Bodrum has a population of 130,000 but receives over 1.3 million tourists every year mainly from Britain and Germany.
Bodrum has over 1000 hotels with about 150,000 rooms and more than 300,000 beds of cost between $50 and $500.
There are boutique hotels and luxury collections. Bodrum has been described as unique, chic and special by tourists who troop there from April to October every year.
After facility visits and city tour of Bodrum which included visits to the Castle and the Museum of Halicarnisus, a former ancient wonder of the world, the team departed for Antalya.
Antalya is the town where Paul the Apostle started his missionary journey in the Bible. Stopover at Cappadocia completed the tour.
The team from Turkey is expected in Nigeria for a series of road shows to introduce Turkey to Nigerian tour operators and professionals. A series of FamTrips are also planned to Turkey in the course of the year.
The Mayor of Bodrum presented a book on Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey to the Nigerians.
In her response, the team leader, Ms Mambo, told them that Nigerians are great travellers and are looking for new destinations and Turkey is perfect.
She introduced the team as experts to deliver the mandate desired by the Mayor.
Air traffic engineers threaten strike over controllers pay - PUNCH
BY Oyetunji Abioye
Air traffic engineers under the aegis of the National Association of Air Traffic Engineers have issued one-week ultimatum to the management of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, stating their intention to embark on industrial action over issues affecting condition of service.
The development came barely one week after the NAMA management reportedly increased the emolument of air traffic controllers.
To forestall industrial unrest, the Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, was said to have met with several groups with a view to resolving the issue.
The PUNCH could not confirm if the matter had been resolved as of the time of filing this report.
In a notice to all the NAAE chapters, the Secretary-General, Ishaya Akaaba, stated that “subject to the one week notice of commencement of industrial action issued to NAMA management on January 4, 2022, all NAAE chapters are reminded to immediately organise emergency meetings to sensitise and mobilize or members in line with the issues of great concern discussed at the emergency NAAE NEC meeting of Tuesday, January 4th, 2022.”
Akaaba said the failure of the NAMA management to “holistically and expediently address their demands that are similar to that of air traffic controllers” had drawn an outrage among its personnel.
The group, as part of their demand, proposed Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel Professional Allowances and radiation allowance.
It also proposed an increase of remuneration of ATSEPs on contract.
It was learnt that the engineers became angry over the decision of the NAMA management to raise the conditions of service of air traffic controllers without extending same to them.
The annual aero-medical allowance for air traffic controllers has been increased from #200,000 to #500,000 with effect from January 2022, according to findings.
The monthly remuneration of air traffic controllers, who are on contract, has also been increased from the present #400,000 to #580,000, with effect from January 2022.
Also approved is that all ATC officers are to be registered on the gold plan of the customised NAMA NHIS which is to be implemented soonest.
Management has concluded plans to engage the services of a specialist to evaluate and define the type and level of risks or hazards that controllers and other technical staff are exposed to in order to consider an appropriate allowance as well as mitigation methods.
This, NAMA noted is to be done in conjunction with the NATCAs’ committee.
The engineers appear to be fighting to get the NAMA management to improve their condition of service.
‘Travel protocols, vaccination key to aviation rebound’ - THE GUARDIAN
By Wole Oyebade
President of the Indian Cultural Association, Sanjay Jain, yesterday, hinged aviation rebound on better adherence to travel protocols and herd immunity through vaccination.
Jain, who just returned from a trip, told stakeholders and the public that COVID-19 threats are real and require concerted effort to tackle.
He added that while international travel continued to struggle under the grip of Omicron, domestic travel could intensify efforts to grow and deepen aerial presence nationwide.
He said there is no denying the discomfort of complying with the travel protocols. “Many of them are there like getting the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test done before and after travel, wearing of the mask all the time, and keeping social distancing among others.
“But, I feel that these are very necessary. Pandemic is still hovering around us and the risk has not gone completely. Hence, the travel protocols are necessary and are in the interest of the travellers as well as the populace in general. Though, one can get annoyed easily as these protocols make life difficult and travel very complicated. But as I said, they are necessary. So these should continue as per the experts’ advice.”
Jain said the current travel apathy in many parts of the world is not sustainable, as human beings are naturally mobile.
“But with a great number of people getting vaccinated, there shall be a huge desire to take to air travel. The people are fed up as a result of no travel. That is even felt by the authorities.
“So, as a result, there shall be more flights, which shall be allowed in the New Year. Unfortunately, the new Omicron variant is creating havoc again and till it eases, there shall be restrictions still on travel.
“On one hand, people are fed up sitting at home or working from home. On the other hand, after getting vaccinated, people are feeling protected and more confident. They wish to take up domestic travels, which to them are safer, thereby embracing local tourism. That is a great opportunity for the local sector to explore,” Jain said.
Inbound Passengers to Lagos Face Challenges over Hiccups in Payment for PCR Test - THISDAY
BY Chinedu Eze
Many inbound passengers designated to arrive Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, are stranded in different parts of the world because they cannot successfully pay for their PCR test through the platform provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), THISDAY investigation has revealed.
It was learnt that for several weeks travellers have faced hiccups, but beyond apology, the companies providing payment platforms for NCDC, Flutterwave and Paystack have not done anything to improve their system.
Many travellers who were victims of the payment system said their grouse was that nothing was being done to improve the payment system, which means, “travellers will continue to go through this trauma.”
In the travel protocol released by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, arriving travellers were directed to make payments without which airlines would not allow them to travel to Nigeria.
The PSC circular stated, “Following successful payment, Travelers should download the Permit to Travel Certificate/ QR Code using the “Get Permit to Travel” button visible at the top right corner of the portal, save and print the form for presentation at the point of boarding. The Permit to Travel Certificate/ QR code will have a “PAID” label if payment is successful and “UNPAID” label if payment had not gone through yet or is unsuccessful. Any passenger with an “UNPAID’ label will not be allowed to travel. A copy of the Permit to Travel Certificate/QR Code will also be sent to the email address provided by the traveller.”
The circular also stated that prior to boarding for Nigeria, travellers must present two documents at their point of departure to be allowed to board. One of the documents is negative COVID-19 PCR test done within two days (48hours) of departure.
“Airlines have been directed not to board Travellers with non-PCR COVID-19 tests (such as antigen or antibody tests), a positive COVID-19 PCR test result, or tests performed beyond 48 hours of boarding, “it added.
The second requirement is Permit to Travel Certificate/QR Code-generated from the Nigeria International Travel Portal on completion of a health questionnaire, uploading of a negative COVID-19 PCR result and schedule of PCR tests on Days 2 and 7 on arrival in Nigeria. The circular emphasised that travellers failing to show a Permit to Travel Certificate (which confirms payment)/QR Code would not be allowed to board.
Travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, who was victims of the NCDC payment portal when he was travelling from Turkey to Nigeria, narrated his experience.
Uko said he made payment to the platform but it refused to accept his payment adding that he would have been stranded in Istanbul if interventions did not come, “a kind of intervention that might not come for ordinary travellers who do not have access and connections with airlines and aviation agencies.”
“The platform refused to accept my payment. My family tried paying and it kept declining payment, asking them to set up another payment option. A tour operator in Abuja tried paying for me and it declined payment. We opened a new registration but once it is the same passport number it will ask you to pay; then it declines the payment.
“Now, I am stuck in a foreign land with no means of boarding a flight back home. So I kicked in my network. I contacted the airline managers that I was going to fly and they got to work. I contacted NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority). They asked the airline to write a mail on my behalf. The airline obliged. All through the night NCAA and the airline were able to get me a waiver to fly. The waiver put a caveat threatening the airline with sanctions if I failed to complete the process. If not for my relationship no airline will be willing to agree to such a responsibility,” he narrated.
Uko wondered why the payment platform was unstable and noted that in this day and age, “where Nigeria is listed as one of the fastest instant payment countries in the world my travel plans were messed up by NITP (Nigeria International Travel Portal) payment portal. Do you know the consequences of missing a connecting flight during Christmas Season?”
He disclosed that Flutterwave, which provided the platform with which he made the failed payment later sent apology saying, “We sincerely apologise for the delay you have experienced. This is certainly not the kind of experience we want for you.
“Kindly be informed that Flutterwave is a payment processor that provides services for various merchants across Africa and globally. The referred transaction was processed successfully to the merchant, however, we engaged the merchant (NCDC) on your behalf for further resolution. We’ll like to apologise once again for the delay in getting back to you and for any inconvenience caused.”
Another passenger also narrated his experience, “Oh I had a terrible experience with the portal that cost me N1.2 million. The portal kept debiting me and no QR Code was coming. Qatar (Airways) refused to board me and I eventually missed the flight.
“It was such a terrible experience. I didn’t even have access to network to call friends in high places. It was as if the universe connived to show me ‘shege’ that night. Anyways, I got back and made trouble with Lagos State Biobank & Qatar. Qatar only sent a long apology email citing the clause from Nigerian government to fine them if they carry any passenger without QR code.
“Lagos State Biobank sent an apology email and refunded all the COVID-19 payments debited but that didn’t compensate for the emotional trauma I went through nor the funds I lost on date change andhotel in the process. Sad to know things are still the same.”
When THISDAY contacted NCAA, the agency stated that it does not have powers when it comes to COVID-19 protocol, noting that it is the Presidential Steering Committee that is responsible.
“PSC only issues statements through NCAA because the airlines only recongise NCAA and such statements are circulated through NOTAM (Notice to Airmen). So in aviation, we are just the mouthpiece of PSC,” an official of the agency said.