As Nigeria prepares for its most keenly contested presidential elections since 1999, there’s an uptick in outbound flights from the country at a scale higher than every other election year.
Worries over post-election violence typically force mostly foreigners as well as some Nigerians to flee the country until after the elections. The trend is no different this year, only that this time, part of the surge may be driven by a wider exodus of Nigerians seeking a permanent way out of the country.
Several foreigners, including expatriates, have also long fled Nigeria due to persistent economic
Adenike Macaulay, CEO of Lagos-based travel agency, Wakanow, said there has been a dramatic rise in outward travel compared to four years ago because of the upcoming election.
“Outbound travel is increasing exponentially; four years ago, it wasn’t this terrible. We have noticed early booking activity in December against the election in February,” Macaulay said at the annual Africa Business Convention 2023 organised by BusinessDay.
Travel agents say the increase in travel is not only limited to Nigerian citizens but also to foreign investors and diplomatic personnel who are temporarily leaving the country. The reason for this departure is believed to be due to safety concerns and uncertainty surrounding the election outcome.
They also mentioned that Nigerians with dual citizenship have also made plans to leave the country and make a possible return after the election.
Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies, said the number of outbound flights from Lagos to countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada had increased by 20 percent, with many passengers concerned about the potential for violence or unrest during and after the election and also wanting a better life abroad.
“People are travelling more to leave the country and not return due to economic insecurity rather than election anxieties, and the reason is because of the increase in airfares,” Akporiaye said.
“The issue of trapped funds affecting international airlines is what has prompted the surge in airfares, making airfares exorbitant again, unlike four years ago,” she added.
Last year, foreign airlines found it difficult to access their funds from tickets sold in the country as a result of foreign exchange scarcity and resorted to buying dollars from the black market for as high as N700 to a dollar as against the Central Bank of Nigeria’s N429/$1 rate.
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Airfares have risen by almost 400 percent to all international destinations as foreign airlines operating in Nigeria blocked all low ticket inventories on their websites and have since continued to sell the highest inventories, making it difficult for passengers to buy affordable tickets through local travel agents.
BusinessDay’s findings show that a prospective Nigerian traveller currently needs about N3 million to purchase an economy ticket, while date changes on some airlines go as high as N1.5 million and N1.8 million.
Election-related violence has been a concern in Nigeria in the past, with reports of violence and civil unrest following previous elections. Many citizens are opting to err on the side of caution by leaving the country during this time to avoid any potential harm.
The Nigerian government has reassured citizens and foreign nationals that adequate measures have been put in place to ensure a peaceful election process. However, these reassurances have done little to calm the nerves of those who have decided to leave the country.
The election period is a crucial time for Nigeria, and the country’s leaders are hoping for a peaceful and transparent process. The impact of the increase in outbound flights on the country’s economy remains to be seen, but it is clear that the election period is causing concern for many citizens.