Saudi Arabian authorities have canceled the visas of all 264 passengers flown in by Air Peace from Kano State, prompting the airline to return them to Nigeria. The flight, originating from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and stopping at the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, proceeded to Jeddah without incident on Sunday night.
Upon landing in Jeddah on Monday, Saudi authorities unexpectedly announced the cancellation of all passengers’ visas, instructing the airline to repatriate them to Nigeria. The decision left both passengers and airline personnel in shock, as the Advanced Passengers Prescreening System (APPS) had been utilized during the pre-flight checks in Nigeria, a process monitored by Saudi authorities.
An anonymous source suggested the possibility that the visa cancellations might be a strategy to deter the airline from operating to the destination. Despite consistently high load factors and a fully booked flight scheduled for Tuesday to Jeddah, the motive behind the abrupt visa cancellations remains unclear.
The Nigerian embassy in Jeddah intervened in the situation, leading to a reduction in the number of passengers to be returned from 264 to 170. Air Peace, known for its relatively lower fares and direct flights to Saudi Arabia, has been contributing to the conservation of foreign exchange for Nigeria.
A source from the Nigerian embassy in Jeddah disclosed that even Saudi immigration personnel were unaware of who initiated the visa cancellations. The decision was reportedly made while the airline was already en route to Jeddah. The source emphasized that Air Peace had been absolved of any wrongdoing, as the live APPS system should have screened out any invalid visas during the pre-flight process.
In response to the sudden development, 177 passengers were deported, and Air Peace has already commenced their return journey to Nigeria. The incident has raised questions about the transparency and coordination in visa processing between the two countries.