Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger May Close Airspace against Nigerian Flights, Aviation Stakeholders Warn - THISDAY
FEBRUARY 03, 2024
by Chinedu Eze
Following the official resignation of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), after alleging marginalisation from Nigeria’s President who is the Chairman of ECOWAS Bloc, stakeholders in the aviation industry have warned that the three countries may close their airspace against flights emanating from Nigeria.
The stakeholders are of the view that should the three African countries make do their threats to withdraw their membership from ECOWAS, they will likely close their airspace against Nigeria, a development that will cause adverse effect on the Nigerian economy, since the three countries occupy about 50 per cent of ECOWAS airspace.
According to them, if Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger should close their airspace against Nigeria, flights from Nigeria will have to spend extra two hours to circumvent these countries, which will be at huge cost for both scheduled, cargo and private flights going in and out of Nigeria.
Former Acting Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Matthew Pwajok, told THISDAY that one of the ECOWAS sanctions against Niger Republic was that no flight emanating from Nigeria would land in Niger, except in special cases and it must have the approval of the National Security Adviser and the sanction was conveyed to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
According to him, if these three countries withdraw from ECOWAS, Niger will want to revenge against Nigeria by closing its airspace to flights to and from Nigeria, which will cost the airlines huge amount of money and also the aviation agencies, especially NAMA, which will lose over-fliers revenue, paid in foreign currency and which is the base of the agency’s income.
“The challenge we will have is, if they decide to close their airspace against flights from and to Nigeria it will adversely affect our Europe-bound flights, which usually fly through Niger and this will be a serious challenge both for the airlines and for aviation agencies, especially NAMA. Flights from southern Africa fly though Nigeria and we generate revenue from over flier charges, but if they close their airspace, these flights won’t be flying through our own airspace to connect to theirs and to Europe.
“So, NAMA’s revenue will drop. ECOWAS decision is that no flight from Niger will be allowed in Nigeria and no flight in Nigeria will be allowed in Niger, except technical stops like small planes and helicopters can stop there and refuel but there must be approval from the National Security Adviser,” Pwajok said.
“Currently West African nationals travel across the states without visa, they move goods and services by road, sea and air as members of ECOWAS community but if the aforementioned countries withdraw, they can block free passage of flights destined to Nigeria.
“Also, Nigerians will not be able to visit the countries without visa and goods from Nigeria may be barred from being sold in these countries. Most goods produced in Nigeria, including beverages, foot-wears, clothes, electric cables and others are sold across the nations that made up the ECOWAS states, but the withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will disorganise the ECOWAS protocol on trade, transport and diplomatic corporation, “Pwajok further said.
On his part, the Managing Director of Flights and Logistics Solutions Limited, Amos Akpan, told THISDAY that the protocols in ECOWAS affect multilateral agreements binding member states and these include agreements and co-operations entered for regional interests like free movement of citizens from member states without visas and unlimited access to trade and movement of goods amongst member states.
According to Akpan, Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA), existed and was operated between Nigeria, Mali, Niger, and Bourkina Faso before ECOWAS. Therefore, all the designations of airlines to fly between these countries had been based on BASA, not on ECOWAS protocols.
“These countries have announced withdrawal of membership from ECOWAS, not severance of diplomatic relationship with Nigeria. BASA is affected if diplomatic relations is cut off. That means airlinks between the two countries’ airlines is cut off too. This scenario often occurs if the two countries are at war. How then does this affect Nigerian Aviation?” he queried.
Akpan explained that the withdrawal of ECOWAS members would affect Nigeria’s international flight services including over-flight.
“This makes it difficult to fly into or out of Nigeria to Europe, Asia, and the Gulf states without crossing their airspace. If the three countries treat flights crossing into and out of Nigeria with suspicion, it will be difficult to obtain overflight permits. The alternative route will add at least two hours to cost of operations into and out of Nigeria. This will affect ticket prices and cargo prices. Fares and freight fees will spike to highest levels,” he said.
Akpan disclosed that these countries can constitute new entry requirements that would no more be by ECOWAS treaty.
“Nigerian businesses in the three countries will suffer setbacks. Trade and travels will now be subjected to each country’s diplomatic policy (gauge) with Nigeria. Nigerians have plenty of businesses operational in the three states. Though not captured in official records by Nigerian institutions, these countries import about forty percent of their household utensils and disposable consumables from Nigeria. Inquire from the cargo agents in the airports and you will be informed of the stuff they freight to these countries including: nylon bags, electronics, pharmaceuticals, toiletries, creams, soaps, detergents, toothpaste, apparels, shoes, bags, clothes e.t.c, produced in Nigeria – Aba, Kano, Nnewi, Agbara.
“Mostly goods imported from China in containers then break bulked and shipped to these countries. These are not captured in banks’ Form “M”. In the 90s, my company, used to load 34tons to 40tons of these items every 14 days to Mali or Guinea or Kinshasa. Currently the tonnage is lower and frequencies have slowed down because of the general economic down turn. Check what goods and tonnage DHL and Ethiopian cargo flights are lifting to these countries from Nigeria monthly even when declared as transit cargo,” he said.
Akpan who had managed three airlines, including cargo freighter said that airline business plan in Nigeria include operations such as charter, scheduled, cargo, passengers between West African countries; so, if the three countries cut diplomatic ties, it will limit the business coverage for Nigerian airlines.
On how Nigeria should react to end the possible impasse that may lead to the challenges, he said that the Federal Government should review Nigeria’s posture as allies of France.
“The entire citizenry of these countries support their present leaders against France. They perceive anything France as their enemy. Nigeria should take on one-on-one diplomatic meetings with each country to secure interest of that country with Nigeria. Whether we are in ECOWAS or still talking with France or America, we have to assure them that the interest of each of these countries with Nigeria is protected and secured. In diplomatic relationships what you see outside is often cosmetic as cover to what truly goes on inside.
“It will be costly to lose bilateral relations with neighbors of geopolitical strategic relevance. Take a lesson from America. They have retained their relationship with Niger and that’s why they still have their drones’ operational base in Niger in spite of the change from civil to military leadership. Besides ECOWAS, as neighbours, Nigeria and Niger have very close relationship, which was thawed by the sanctions, but many believe that the central African nations may not take retaliatory stance against Nigeria, “he said.