Cablegate: Gon Aviation Minister Protests Embassy Press
230737Z Dec 04
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 002118
PASS DOT FOR OIA, ALSO FAA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR EINV PREL NI
SUBJECT: GON AVIATION MINISTER PROTESTS EMBASSY PRESS
BRIEFING ON VIRGIN NIGERIA AIRLINES
REF: (A) ABUJA 1670, (B) GREGOIRE-FAUX-GABLE 1222041444
On 12/21 Aviation Minister Yuguda sent the Ambassador a
letter protesting the Embassy's 12/16 briefing of media
representatives on the USG position on Virgin Nigeria. The
text of Yuguda's letter follows. This letter refers to one
of October 14, the text of which is being sent septel.
Embassy will cable its proposed reply to both letters
December 23. Since many senior GON officials will be on
leave next week, Washington officials will have time to
approve a reply to the minister's letters, which he may not
expect until after New Year's Day.
Begin unedited text of minister's 12/21 letter
Mr. John Campbell,
Embassy of the United States of America, Abuja
[1.] I wish to invite Your Excellency's attention to a recent
report contained on the front page of 'This Day' newspaper
publication of Friday, December 17, 2004 captioned "We Won't
Allow Virgin Nigeria Deal-US".
2. This publication alluded to certain statements credited to
Mr. Joseph Gregoire, the Economic Counsellor of the Embassy
of the United States at a news briefing reportedly held in
Abuja on Thursday 16th December, 2004 on the issue of the
designation of Virgin Nigeria on the Lagos/US routes.
3. Of particular concern to the Nigerian Government arising
from this publication is the unwholesome development whereby
confidential governmental business and diplomatic matters are
made subject of newspaper discourse.
4. In relation to the above, permit me to refer Your
Excellency to correspondence to the United States Embassy
Ref. No. FMA/LU2004/1/119 of 14th October, 2004 containing
certain clarifications on the status of Virgin-Nigeria aimed
at removing any misconception the United States Government
may have on the concept of Virgin-Nigeria as the designated
flag carrier for Nigeria.
5. Surprisingly, while a response was still being awaited to
this letter, the Ministry of Aviation, to its utter dismay,
read the newspaper publication in question, to the effect
that the United States has 'formally' said it will not allow
Virgin-Nigeria Airline to operate direct flights into the
United States as a result of the restricted United Kingdom
air transport policy which is adversely affecting the United
6. Your Excellency, on the basis of the cordial and friendly
relationship between our two Governments over the years,
based on the principles of mutual respect and fair play, I
would have expected a formal response to my earlier letter
rather than subjecting this matter to a press briefing cum
newspaper discourse. In the tradition associated with
diplomatic matters of this nature, one would further have
expected that there would, first and foremost, have been a
conclusion reached between the two sides prior to the US
Embassy officials engaging the press on the matter. Be that
as it may, I would be most appreciative to receive Your
Excellency's comments on this unfortunate development.
7. Our view at this juncture is that the newspaper report
manifests the deep rooted problems in the air transport
relationship between the U.S and the UK. Unfortunately, it
appears that such problems are being visited on Nigeria in
her legitimate efforts to establish a viable private sector
airline to compete favourably with other airlines on the
8. It is our further view that Nigeria has so far complied
with the established conditions for designation sufficient
for the U.S Department of State for Transport, if acting in
good faith in this matter, to exercise a discretion in favour
of the Nigerian registered Airline, whose shares are to be
held in the majority by Nigerians and to be managed and
controlled by Nigerians.
9. The emphasis apparently being placed by the U.S.
Government (as evident in the newspaper publication) is that
the Airline is an entirely Virgin Atlantic of the United
Kingdom's matter. The newspaper report regrettably goes on to
name some foreign Airlines, which the U.S. expects Nigeria to
partner with in the arrangements, which would be acceptable
to the United States, without considering the issue of the
sovereign rights of Nigeria to make its own decision on the
choice of a suitable partner.
10. On our part, we consider this matter of the US acceptance
of Virgin-Nigeria designation still very much under
discussions with the US Government and, relying on Your
Excellency's cooperation, it is hoped that an acceptable
solution will be arrived at in good time in the mutual
interest of our two Governments.
11. Suffice it to state at this juncture that the report
further referred to the proposed operations of Continental
Air into Nigeria by April 2005 without taking into
consideration the principle of reciprocity in the bilateral
air transport relations between the two sovereign countries.
Such proposals by the United States in respect of its own
designated Airline may legitimately be attended to on quid
pro quo basis.
12. Your Excellency's early reaction to the contents of the
publication which Nigeria considers to be rather unfortunate
and a most inappropriate treatment accorded to a matter of
this nature will be most appreciated please.
13. While I wish Your Excellency compliments of the season, I
again wish to reiterate the assurance of the highest regards
of myself, the people and Government of the Federal Republic
of Nigeria to Your Excellency.
MALLAM ISA YUGUDA
Minister of Aviation