Saudi Arabia has unexpectedly revoked the visas of all 264 passengers who arrived in Jeddah Via Air Peace, Nigeria’s prominent carrier.
The flight took off from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos via the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano on Sunday night and arrived in Saudi Arabia’s major city on Monday without issues.
Even with the Advanced Passenger Prescreening System clearance during check-in, Saudi authorities insisted on the immediate return of the passengers to Nigeria.
This move has raised speculation about potential aero-political motives, with industry observers questioning whether it aims to disrupt Air Peace’s operations to the destination, given the airline’s consistent high load factor and full bookings for upcoming flights.
Following intervention by the Nigerian embassy, Saudi authorities reduced the number of passengers to be returned to 177, leading Air Peace to promptly repatriate the affected individuals back to Nigeria.
According to a source, the screening of passengers from the MMIA and Kano Airport was thorough, and there was no issue with the visas. These passengers were duly issued visas and passed through the advanced passenger information system, accessible to both authorities in Lagos and Jeddah.
The surprising cancellation was announced upon landing, leading to suspicions of a strategy to frustrate the Nigerian carrier out of the route.
“We suspect this is a strategy to frustrate the Nigerian carrier out of the route; some people are not happy with the option Air Peace is providing, the direct flight to Jeddah as against using another foreign airline which attracts higher fares,” the source said.
A source said, “The screening of passengers from the MMIA and Kano Airport was thorough and there was no issue with the visas.
“These were people who were duly issued the visa and they passed through the advanced passenger information system which is accessible to both authorities in Lagos and Jeddah.
“We are surprised because this cancellation was announced when the flight already landed.
“We suspect this is a strategy to frustrate the Nigerian carrier out of the route, some people are not happy with the option Air Peace is providing, the direct flight to Jeddah as against using another foreign airline which attracts higher fares.”
This incident follows Air Peace’s recent announcement of the commencement of direct flights from Lagos and Kano to Jeddah in September, operating flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with return flights on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, utilizing a Boeing 777.
When contacted, the spokesperson, Air Peace, Stanley Olisa, confirmed the cancellation of the visas of 177 passengers airlifted by the airline to Saudi Arabia by the authorities of the foreign nation.
He said the development came as a shock to the Nigerian carrier, stressing that despite the intervention of the Nigerian embassy in Saudi Arabia, the passengers were still ordered back to Nigeria.
“It is shocking. 264 passengers were flown and everything was fine from here (Nigeria), the system checked them and everything was approved. But upon arrival in Saudi, their (passengers’) visas were canceled.
“Despite the intervention of the Nigerian embassy overthere, the visas of 177 Nigerians were canceled. So out of the 264 passengers, the visas of 177 people were canceled. So if you do the math, you will know the number of those who were allowed entry,” Olisa said.
On whether there was an explanation for this, he said, “It was shocking and there was nothing in the form of explanation for that action. So we cannot say the actual reason for that decision.”