Coronavirus: Air Peace evacuates 274 Israelis to Tel-Aviv
Nigeria’s biggest carrier, Air Peace evacuated about 274 Israelis from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to Israel’s major city, Tel-Aviv.
The flight, which airlifted 65 passengers from Lagos and 209 passengers from Abuja was operated by Air Peace Boeing 777-300 with registration number 5N-BWI.
Allen Onyema, the Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, described the flight as historic 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 potentials, 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 Israeli government also gave its support and allowed for the first time a Nigerian airline to operate a direct flight to Israel, noting that this is something good for both countries, good for our diplomatic relations.
“So, I feel proud; I feel 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 doing scheduled direct flights 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 to 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.”
Shimon Ben-Shoshan, the Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, expressed happiness for the successful evacuation of his country’s citizens from Nigeria and commended 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 said.
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 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.