By Chinelo Obogo

Foreign airlines have said that they are still unable to repatriate trapped funds from the sale of flight tickets as they cannot exchange forex at the I and E window at the current exchange rate.

Responding to claims that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has successfully settled all outstanding foreign exchange (FX) obligations, the president, Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria (AFRAN), Dr. Kingsley Nwokoma, told Daily Sun that foreign airlines want to get their funds at the rate they sold their tickets, which was less than N1,000 to a dollar, in order to avoid incurring huge losses.

The CBN governor, Olayemi Cardoso, had on February 5, said his administration inherited a $7 billion FX backlog when he became the head of the apex bank in September 2023, but that it has dropped to $2.2 billion.

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On Wednesday, the acting director of corporate communications at the apex bank, Hakama Sidi Ali, disclosed in a statement that the financial regulator recently concluded the payment of $1.5 billion to settle obligations to bank customers, effectively settling the residual balance of the FX backlog. 

She said independent auditors from Deloitte Consulting meticulously assessed the transactions, ensuring that only legitimate claims were honoured, while invalid transactions were promptly referred to the relevant authorities for further scrutiny.

But Nwokoma disputed this, saying that foreign airlines have been pushed to go the I and E window to get the backlog of their funds but that they are not willing to do so as it would mean incurring losses considering the fact that at the time they sold tickets, the naira had not been devalued to the current rate.  He explained that at the time, foreign airlines sold tickets in naira at the CBN approved exchange rate, which was N430 to a dollar during the administration of Godwin Emefelie and that they are now being forced to convert at the current rate which ranges between N1,400 and N1,700 to a dollar. He argues that if airlines do this, it means they would be losing more than 60 percent of their funds, hence, they are insisting that they get their funds at the rate previously agreed to.

“What we are saying is that the Central Bank of Nigeria should avail us the figures of the backlog they said they have cleared. The foreign airlines have been pushed and told to go to the I and E window to get their money. But they cannot go to the I and E window as they would run at a loss because the amount they sold their ticket at the time is not the same amount that the CBN is telling them to collect. The foreign airlines are insisting that they need to get their money at the rate that they sold tickets when the rate of the dollar was below N700. If going to the I and E window means that you have cleared the FX backlog, tell us how much was paid and which airlines benefitted. The last time, they released a figure saying that they paid $65 million, now they have said they cleared the backlog. What the airlines want is that they need a figure and data to indicate how much has been cleared. Telling them to go to the I and E means that they would lose almost everything,” he said.