By Bassey Udo
To check a brewing crisis in the country’s aviation sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Friday released $265 million to airlines operating in the country, to settle outstanding ticket sales.
Details of the release showed $230 million would be used as a special foreign exchange intervention fund, while another $35 million would be released through the retail secondary market intervention sales (SMIS) auction.
The Director, Corporate Communications Department at the CBN, Osita Nwanisobi, who confirmed the release said the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele and his team were concerned about the crisis in the aviation sector, particularly what it portends for the sector and travelers as well as the country as a whole.
Nwanisobi said the apex bank was not against any company repatriating its funds from the country, adding that what the Bank stood for was an orderly exit for those that might be interested in doing so.
Media reports earlier on Friday said one of the world’s oldest airlines with links to Nigeria, British Airways (BA), was on the verge of suspending fight operations in Nigeria following challenges in repatriating funds trapped in Nigeria.
The report was said to have come to the fore following a crucial business meeting between BA and the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) on the challenges it was facing doing business in the country.
The airline had threatened to discontinue the sale of flight tickets to travelers until the trapped fund issue was resolved.
Indications are that with the release of funds by the CBN, airline operators, including BA, and travelers would heave a sigh of relief, and reconsider their threat to withdraw their services from the country.
Following the crisis, many passengers who planned to travel from Nigeria were compelled to resort to booking their flights to the UK, US and other European countries through agents operating in neighbouring ECOWAS countries like Ghana.
The return ticket to London on a BA flight attracted a price as high as almost N10m.
It was learned that intending UK or US passengers had to travel by road from Nigeria to Ghana to join their flights from there.