By Alexander Cornwell
DOHA (Reuters) – Nigeria withheld $ 450 million in revenue from international carriers operating in the country, the executive director of the world’s largest airline association said on Sunday.
Africa’s largest economy has restricted access to foreign currency for imports and for investors seeking to repatriate profits as the nation copes with severe dollar shortages.
Kamal al-Awadi, vice president of the International Air Transport Association for Africa and the Middle East, described talks with Nigerian officials about the release of the funds as a “hasty trip”.
“We continue to break away and hope that this will harm the country in the future,” he told reporters in Doha on the eve of the annual meeting of IATA airline chiefs this week.
Al-Awadi, a former chief executive of Kuwait Airways, said Nigerian officials had blamed the lack of foreign currency for not repatriating the airline’s revenue.
A spokesman for Nigeria’s central bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nigeria had previously blocked revenues from foreign airlines before later repatriating the funds.
IATA has so far held two rounds of talks with Nigerian officials, including from the central bank, whom Al Awadi said did not “react” to the release of cash.
Another round of talks between IATA and Nigerian officials is expected to begin soon, the airline’s lobby group said, without specifying when.
“We hope that we can find a solution when it starts to decrease (but) it will not pay off with one shot,” Al Awadi said.
IATA says $ 1 billion in revenue from foreign airlines is being held across Africa, although Nigeria is the only country where the value of blocked funds has risen.
$ 450 million, the largest amount withheld by any African nation, was 12.5 percent higher in May than in the previous month.
Algeria, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, which together withdrew $ 271 million from foreign airlines, paid little in May. Eritrea remained unchanged at $ 75 million, IATA reported.