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COVID-19: Air Peace evacuates 274 Israelis from Abuja; Lagos to Tel-Aviv

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Air Peace boss, Allen Onyema

AIR PEACE Sunday evacuated 274 Israelis from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja (NAIA) to Tel-Aviv, Israel.

The flight, which airlifted 65 passengers from Lagos and proceeded to Abuja to airlift another 209 was operated by Air Peace Boeing 777-300 with registration number 5N-BWI.

The Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema described the flight as historical because it is the first time Nigeria and Israel would have a direct flight and expressed hope that subsequently the two countries would have scheduled direct flight between Lagos and Tel-Aviv.

“It is a historic day for both Nigeria and Israel. History has been made today. 60 years of diplomatic relations, no direct flight has been conducted between Nigeria and Israel till today. So this is the first time Nigeria and Israel will have direct air connectivity. So it is a historic day and it is going to portend greater things that will come. Both countries have a lot to gain by having direct flights. Nigeria is a land of huge potential, which Israel may be willing to tap into, while Nigeria will want to tap into science and technology, which Israel is known for.

“I really want to thank the federal government of Nigeria for making this possible. Previous administrations were unable to pull this through, but this government did it. We have a compassionate government; that I can tell you. It is difficult to get flight permits even during this critical period of emergencies from other countries, but Nigeria did not waste a second to approve this flight. The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika approved the request the moment it was presented to him. All the heads of aviation agencies gave their support, which made the flight possible. So it is the federal government that made the evacuation possible,” Onyema said.

He said the Israel government also gave its support and allowed for the first time a Nigerian airline to operate direct flight to the Israel, noting that this is something good for both countries, good for our diplomatic relations.

“So I feel proud, I fell privileged to be part of this history and I thank God almighty for it. We have to build from here now going forward,” the Air Peace Chairman said.

He also said, “This COVID-19 storm will be over someday. When it is over we look forward to do scheduled direct flight to Israel; at least twice a week to Tel-Aviv; this will help boost business relations between both countries. So there is a lot to be gained instead of people going through different countries before getting to Israel. For Israelis to get their country they spend about 18 hours for just about five hours flight from Nigeria. They were happy and clapping for the Nigerian government and for the Israeli government for making this happen today. So I say kudos to the Buhari administration for making this come through.”

The Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Shimon Ben-Shoshan expressed happiness for the successful evacuation of his country’s citizens from Nigeria and commended the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema for his invaluable contribution in making the airlift possible.

“Thank you so much for this cooperation with us. We will work together. During this operation I will work with you hand by hand. I can say that you are the darling of the Nigerian people but you are my hero. Thank you so much,” Ben-Shoshan.

An Israeli official who superintended the airlifting process from Lagos and who wished not to be named, said it was because of the Coronavirus pandemic that Israel decided to evacuate its citizens because they would have access to better medical facilities and personnel in Israel than in Nigeria.

“We are evacuating because of the coronavirus and the situation in Nigeria, which could become serious. You see what is happening all over the world. So for us to protect our citizens better we take them home to get a better health service. If something happens to you here you go to private hospital, not government hospital but in Israel we have government hospitals. By God’s grace we hope to have direct flight subsequently,” the official said.

The Air Peace Station Manager at MMIA, Lenard Olisakwe expressed happiness that Israel chose Nigerian airline to evacuate its citizens to Israel.

It is not easy to be patronized by Israelis who are highly security conscious, having to say, yes I am handing over the lives of my citizens to a particular airline is a big one. I was excited too because for them to choose Air Peace they must have done a lot of homework because they are not frivolous people. We are operating from both Abuja and Lagos. It is a transit flight. We will take them to Abuja international where the other passengers will join and from Abuja to Tel-Aviv. It is about five hour’s flight. We are using one of our B777-300 BWI. It is one of the best we have,” he said.

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NPA vows to upgrade country’s maritime hub status

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Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation

In a statement issued on Sunday in Lagos by NPA General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Mr Olaseni Alakija, Bello-Koko disclosed this in Abeokuta, Ogun,  at the first retreat for the reconstituted board of directors.

The theme of the retreat was “Expanding the Frontiers of Service Excellence.”

He noted that investments in modern deep seaports would attract very large merchant vessels with the attendant multiple socio-economic benefits, as well as boost port revenue performance.

The statement said Bello-Koko disclosed that a lot had been done, especially in the last few months, to resolve most of the identified constraints to the efficient movement of cargoes to and from ports.

Such efforts, he said, were in line with the new direction and measures being put in place to actualise NPA’s aspirations,

“Nigeria accounts for about 70 per cent of cargoes imported into West and Central Africa and the country controls an impressive stretch of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Nigeria’s rich aquatic endowments and her border with landlocked nations makes development of deep seaports a huge potential revenue earner for the nation.

“The move towards earning the status of hub in the region is in line with our new vision statement.

“This was adopted at the recent NPA Management retreat with the theme ‘To Be The Maritime Logistics Hub For Sustainable Port System In Africa,” he said.

The statement said the acting managing director described the board retreat as very timely, as it signposts a unity of purpose and shared vision.

According to him, the vision is one in which the executive management works closely with every section, unit, department, division and directorate and embraces an all-inclusive strategic outcome for the organisation with the requisite buy-in of the board.

“In appreciation of this, I will like to crave the understanding of the board with regards to the executive management’s limitations in actualising some of our goals and objectives, which I am sure distinguished board members must have noticed in the course of the tour of ports that preceded this retreat,” he added.

The NPA boss informed the board that recent interventions made by the authority had led to significant improvement in terms of ship and cargo dwell time at the ports.

He, however, explained that some of the benchmarks which were yet to be achieved were dependent on “externalities and variables” that required concerted inter-agency actions.

He said that NPA, despite dogged efforts, has yet to optimally achieve the said benchmarks due to systemic administrative constraints and red-tape.

He enumerated the constraints as conflicting directives from the agencies operating within the ports and reporting to different supervising ministries with jurisdictional overlaps and duplications of functions.

He informed the board that concerted efforts were being made to expand NPA’s revenue streams, in addition to revenue from traditional port operations.

According to him, unlike the practice in sister Francophone countries where government funds the dredging of ports, the NPA was responsible for funding its.

This, he said, has put a lot of strains on its resources and capacity to invest in critical port infrastructure.

“We are facing decaying port infrastructure, for example, sections of the quay aprons or walls at the Tin Can Island Port, Onne, Delta and Calabar Ports are collapsing and require huge funds to repair them.

“With the increasing pressure to remit more revenue to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) of the federation, it has become very difficult to have sufficient funds to attend to these decaying facilities.

“There is then the need to explore alternative funding sources outside the traditional port service offerings,” he stated.

Bello-Koko explained that the authority was blessed with prime real estates which could serve as alternative funding sources outside the regular budget.

“NPA has a lot of high value landed properties in Onne, Snake Island, and Takwa Bay that are designated free trade zones.

* Apapa Wharf

“They are mostly allocated but burdened by poor arterial road network and other infrastructure to make them attractive for private investments which would bring good revenue to the authority and the Federal Government.

“Management will need the support of the board to drive the process of alternative revenue sources to actualise the lofty aspirations of the authority,” he said.

The Acting MD also disclosed that management had opened correspondence with some multilateral financial institutions such as the French Development Agency (AFD), African Development Bank (AfDB), European Investment Bank (EIB) and Sanlam Infraworks (a Central Bank of Nigeria approved fund manager for InfraCorp).

He explained that these were all part of plans to access long term low interest credits for port infrastructure upgrades and expansion.

“In making the Nigerian seaports more business friendly, we have been able to deploy technology to address the perennial traffic gridlock that has been frustrating the conduct of business around the Lagos ports corridor.

“A software application code named “eto” is gradually restoring sanity to trucking business despite the initial teething problems and resistance by vested interests hitherto profiting from the chaos.

“The authority has accredited 33 private truck terminals within the Lagos area, in addition to the Lily Pond Truck Transit Park and Tin Can Island Port Truck Transit Park, to ensure trucks do not park indiscriminately on the access roads.

“The trucks would only be allowed to transit to the port after obtaining electronic tickets via the “eto” call-up platform and the authority is collaborating with the Lagos State Government to ensure enforcement and compliance with the e-call up system, he said.

He added that other solutions being implemented was the push to link all seaports to the national rail network, as well as optimise the use of the inland waterways through the transfer of cargo or containers via barges.

Bello-Koko said that currently the authority was streamlining barge operations to ensure efficiency, safety and cost effective cargo delivery for increased port revenue.

He said that the Bonny Seaport project in Rivers, boosted by two major railway projects, would massively transform the economic landscape of the country, particularly the South-South and South-Eastern regions.

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BREAKING: Former CBN Deputy Governor Obadiah Mailafia Dies at 64

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A former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, has passed on at the age of 64.

Mailafia, who was a columnist with The PUNCH was said to have died at midnight after a brief illness.

The former deputy governor, who was the Presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress in the 2019 election, was a known government critic and had advocated for public sector and exchange rate reforms.

Mailafia was born on December 24, 1956, in the Sanga Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

He later graduated top of his class at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1978 with a First Class B.Sc.Honours Social Sciences degree (Politics, Economics, and Sociology). He also has an M.Sc. from the same institution.

He subsequently won a French Government Scholarship to France, where he earned a Certificate in French Language and Civilisation from the University of Clermont-Ferrand in 1985.

Mailafia later proceeded to the United Kingdom as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Scholar at Oriel College, earning a DPhil from the University of Oxford in 1995.

He joined partisan politics in 2018 amid the rising killings in Southern Kaduna.

Despite losing, he remained an ardent government critic and got into trouble with the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), when he alleged that a northern governor was a Boko Haram commander.

This earned multiple invitations by the Nigeria Police Force, forcing him to recant his statement.

In his last interview with The PUNCH, Mailafia said the refusal of the CBN to sell foreign exchange to bureau de change operators may not yield the expected result because corrupt bankers would frustrate it while the BDC operators were being shielded by a “Jigawa cabal”.

He had also lamented that Nigeria was operating a “dollarised” economy which was hampering economic growth.

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