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Another diplomatic row might be brewing between Nigeria and the United Kingdom over air travel fares. The Federal Government has issued a 30-day ultimatum, starting today, to British Airways (BA), Virgin Atlantic Airways (VNA) and all international airlines operating in Nigeria to even the regional fare imbalance. The imbalance is a higher fare which Nigerian passengers pay for international flights as opposed to other air travelers in the West African sub-region. The Special Adviser to the Minister on Media, Mr Joe Obi issued this ultimatum in a statement signed by the Federal Ministry of Aviation. It warned that failure to revert the fares would mean that defaulting airlines would face an immediate ban from operating in Nigeria. In response to this, Britain says it could take retaliatory action against Nigerian airlines if a ban was imposed after the ultimatum lapses. The negative effect this would have on both countries would be huge and Nigeria might stand to lose more. Britain insist that only business and first class fares were more expensive to Nigeria than neighbouring countries because of high demand for those seats. It points out that a ban on British Airways and Virgin would break a bilateral air services agreement. “The prime minister and President (Goodluck) Jonathan signed a joint communique last year pledging to double bilateral trade. Action against BA and Virgin would damage that strategic aim.” Depending on which side of the fence you are on, this move by the Nigerian government is another positive step with good course. It is reminiscent of the standoff between British Airways and Arik Air regarding landing slots at London Heathrow airport. Although Arik Air was given the agreed amount of landing slots, it is still a far cry from the large slots British Airways gets. The injustice in that case was settled after the government of Nigeria weighed into the matter and it appears that the present issue at hand would tow the same line. You would recall that the civil aviation authority fined the two airlines last year a combined $235 million for fixing prices. The accusation was denied by BA, which is owned by International Airlines Group and Virgin. The issue of air fare disparity was unearthed following the landing slots standoff and a soft caution was issued that the imbalance be even. Delay in pressing the issue further was a plea in a statement by BA and VNA precisely asking for more time to conduct its own study on the alleged fare disparity. This was allowed because of both airlines promised to report, after investigating, to the Ministry last December. There has been no satisfactory report given on the subject matter thus the ultimatum to revert as Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah explained further: “We are seriously concerned and worried by the reluctance to restore parity within the region by the foreign airlines. They have been using all kinds of delay tactics; this is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated. Nigerian passengers do not deserve this kind of exploitation and we are willing and ready to stand up for their rights.” “Any international airline operating in Nigeria which fails to dismantle this fare imbalance, as well as other sharp practices within the next 30 days would be banned from operating in Nigeria.” The Minister said, confirming the ultimatum. The minister pointed out that Nigeria, which is a key and lucrative route for the international airlines, would only accommodate those willing to treat Nigerians with equity and dignity. Her suggestion for Nigerian travellers, in combating high fares at present, pending the expiration of the ultimatum is to avail themselves of other competitive alternatives while they try to address and resolve this issue once and for all.  
About the Author Edward Chizea Nwosisi is a writer for He has a background in Law

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This article was first published on 28th March 2012 and updated on May 10th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

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