Stanley Tobechukwu (not his real name) was scheduled to attend a global event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, obtaining a direct flight from Nigeria proved difficult after securing his business travel document (visa) for the UAE.
The options available to this Lagos-based tech founder were to fly to Accra, Ghana, before heading to Dubai; travel via Istanbul, Turkey, on the way to Dubai; or make a stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, en route to Dubai. Another route was through Cairo, Egypt.
Opting to connect through Accra, Tobechukwu did not anticipate the struggles and extended transit time while making his connecting flight. It typically takes an average of seven hours for a direct flight from Nigeria to Dubai but can range from 12 to 20 hours when connecting flights are involved, depending on the airline and waiting times.
In addition to the time spent during connecting flights abroad, Nigerian travelers face various other challenges. Tobechukwu shared his experience: “When I arrived at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, the airport officials insisted on seeing my yellow fever vaccination card at the exit points, where I was to collect my luggage. Surprisingly, the yellow fever vaccination card costs $150 at Kotoka International Airport in Accra. Moreover, there are individuals taking advantage of innocent travelers at Kotoka airport.”
Apart from the costs, travelers are constrained to patronize businesses at the airport while awaiting their connecting flights, which can range from 3 to 7 hours.
Additionally, travelers who choose to connect through Istanbul have faced issues, as their passports no longer grant them access to Turkish e-visas. Many countries have ceased granting visas on arrival or e-visas to Nigerian passport holders, creating difficulties for tourists and travelers.
Last year, Ethiopia, a common transit point for Nigerians en route to various destinations, including Dubai, ceased issuing visa-on-arrival to Nigerian citizens.
The Nigerian government had raised hopes recently by stating that talks were underway at the highest level to lift the visa ban on Nigerians and reinstate direct flights to the UAE. Nigerian travelers are still awaiting the outcome of these negotiations.
The UAE had imposed the visa ban on Nigerians in the context of various diplomatic disputes. Dubai’s Emirates also halted flight operations to Nigeria due to difficulties repatriating funds.
While some Nigerians still receive visas to the UAE, particularly for business purposes or conferences, vacation or tourism travelers, which constitute over 80 percent of travelers to Dubai, have been greatly affected by the visa ban.
The suspension of three-month visit visas by the UAE has resulted in visitors opting for either 30-day or 60-day visas. Travel agents emphasize that Nigerians are eager to travel, and Dubai remains a top destination for various purposes, including summer holidays, medical tourism, recreational travel, and visiting family and friends.
BusinessDay’s findings indicate that before the ban, Emirates operated a daily return flight between Dubai and Lagos and Abuja, accommodating an average of 600 arriving passengers and 600 departing passengers on these routes.
Nigerians have been known to spend a significant amount in Dubai, where both wealthy individuals and political figures regularly visit for shopping and meetings. While the visa ban has affected this group, there are alternative routes available through African destinations like Addis Ababa, Egypt, Kenya, and others, connecting travelers to Europe and the United States.