Israel and Nigeria are expected to sign a long-sought agreement later this week that will enable direct flights between the two countries.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will sign the Bilateral Air Service Agreement during a visit to Jerusalem, the Nigerian press reported on Monday.
Jonathan will be leading some 30,000 Christian pilgrims on his trip, according to Nigerian media accounts. Tens of thousands of Nigerian pilgrims visit Israel every year, many of them partially subsidized by the government for the visit.
In April, the head of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission said he hoped an agreement to allow direct flights could boost the number of annual pilgrims above 100,000, which would bring “peace and harmony” to Nigeria.
On Sunday, Special Assistant to the Aviation Minister Joe Obi said that the need for the agreement was driven in part by the number of Nigerian pilgrims traveling to Israel.
“The Agreement will pave way for direct flights between both territories on the Principle of Reciprocity by the designated airlines of both countries [sic],” Obi said in a statement. “Before now, Nigerians traveling to Israel, including Christian pilgrims, have had to endure the long-winding stop-overs in neighboring countries before being finally airlifted to the holy land.”
“The agreement, which is expected to be signed this week during President Jonathan’s pilgrimage to the holy land, is a culmination of months of rigorous negotiations between the two countries,” Obi said.
Nigeria previously attempted to negotiate Bilateral Air Service Agreements in 2005 and 2012, but were unsuccessful.
Obi said that improvements in Nigeria’s aviation infrastructure as well as meeting International Civil Aviation Organisation requirements were contributing factors in cementing the deal.