The visas of all 264 passengers who arrived in Jeddah from Nigeria have been revoked by Saudi Arabia.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have invalidated the visas of the entire group of 264 passengers who journeyed from Nigeria to Jeddah.

The Air Peace flight departed from Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, with a layover at Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, on Sunday night, November 12. It successfully reached Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s major city, on November 13.

However, on landing, the Saudi Arabian authorities announced that all the passengers’ visas were cancelled and they should return to Nigeria.

According to a source speaking to Vanguard, both passengers and airline personnel were surprised by the visa cancellations. The passengers had undergone checks through the Advanced Passengers Prescreening System (APPS), which was monitored by Saudi Arabian authorities before the flight departed from Nigeria.

The source raised concerns about whether the visa cancellation was a deliberate strategy to deter the airline from operating to that destination. The airline had consistently experienced high demand, with the upcoming Tuesday flight to Jeddah already fully booked.

After intervention from the Nigerian embassy, Saudi authorities reportedly decreased the count of passengers slated for repatriation from 264 to 170.

Saudi Air has been operating directly from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia and since Air Peace started flight service to the Middle East nation at relatively lower fares, it has been receiving high patronage and as a Nigerian carrier, it helps to conserve foreign exchange for the country.

A source from the Nigerian embassy in Jeddah said that even the Saudi immigration personnel said that they didn’t know who cancelled the visas but that they were cancelled when the airline was already airborne to Jeddah.

According to the source, “The airline was exonerated in all this as the APPS, which is live between both countries would have screened out any invalid visa and its passenger. The system accepted all affected passengers and passed them on.

“Those deported were 177 passengers and Air Peace has already left with them back to Nigeria. They are on their way to Nigeria now.”

Meanwhile, stakeholders in the sector have attributed the development to aeropolitics.

They stated that it is a way to force the Nigerian operator out of the route, unless the government intervenes by adopting the principle of reciprocity

According to industry experts and the Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult, Nigeria, Group Captain John Ojikutu, the action of the Saudis is aero politics and diplomacy.

He also requested that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should step in immediately and intervene in the case.

He said that what happened showed why it is important for the Nigerian government to stand strongly with any Nigerian carrier designated to operate international destinations.

Ojikutu said: “The action of the Saudi Authorities is shocking. There is geopolitics there and there is also diplomacy. There is the need for the Nigerian government to stand firmly with Nigerian carriers and also designate them as flag carriers; so that other countries will know that they represent Nigeria.

“Government must come out and intervene. The government must be behind Air Peace now to ensure that it is not denied its rights as contained in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between the two countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must not keep quiet. Nigeria must not keep quiet. Ideally, the government is expected to stand behind any of the country’s airlines that it designates to fly overseas.”

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