Nigeria's Buhari tells central bank to allocate more dollars to Emirates

ABUJA, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the central bank to increase the amount of foreign currency allocated to Dubai's Emirates, after the airline suspended flights to and from Nigeria because it was unable to repatriate funds.

Nigeria is facing severe dollar shortages, forcing many citizens and business to seek foreign exchange on the black market, where its naira currency has progressively weakened.

The United Arab Emirates airline suspended its Nigerian flights on two occasions last year as local currency earned from ticket sales was trapped in Africa's most populous nation.

In a telephone conversation with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Monday, Buhari requested a resumption of Emirates' flights to Nigeria and the lifting of a "blanket" visa ban imposed on Nigerians by the UAE, Buhari's office said.

"Buhari assured the UAE leader that the issue of the Emirates funds was receiving appropriate attention alongside those of other foreign airlines operating in Nigeria," it said in a statement.

The central bank in August 2022 released $265 million to airlines to settle outstanding ticket sales, after which Emirates resumed its Nigerian flights in September, only to suspend them from the end of October due to the same issue of blocked funds.

The International Air Transport Association said last year that Nigeria was blocking airlines from repatriating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Oil is Nigeria's biggest foreign exchange earner, but rampant crude theft in the Niger Delta and years of underinvestment have hurt output and strained government finances. For a few months last year, Angola overtook Nigeria as Africa's biggest oil producer and exporter.

Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Alexander Winning and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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