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President Jonathan’s trip to G-8 Summit thwarted by ash clouds and flight safety concerns

A Falcon 900-5N-FGE in Nigeria's presidential fleet: Not flying this time (Copyright Peter913)

On 26 May, President Goodluck Jonathan cancelled his scheduled trip to the Summit of Eight Industrialised Nations (G8) in Deauville, France, due to ash clouds and flight safety concerns arising from the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland.

According to a statement by presidential spokesman Ima Niboro, the cancellation was informed by indications from aviation authorities that a possible resumption of the eruptions would make flights unsafe, which in turn would make it impossible for Jonathan to return to Abuja in time for his inauguration for a fresh term on Sunday 29 May.

The G8 is an unofficial annual forum for the leaders of the eight leading industrialised countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. President Jonathan was among five African leaders invited to join some sessions of the summit this year, the others being the leaders of Algeria, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa.

Issues on the Summit’s agenda this year, which are of interest to Nigeria include the G8’s partnership with Africa, and a range of security issues particularly counter-terrorism and curbing trans-Atlantic drug trafficking. However, that agenda also spelt out that the summit’s main focus would be on the continuing transformations in Egypt and Tunisia, the seemingly stalemated conflict in Libya and the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in stabilising democracy in these nations.

The Grimsvotn volcano in Vatnajokull National Park, which is Iceland’s most active volcano, began erupting on 21 May, belching a plume of white smoke as high as 15 km into the sky. It would be recalled that a little over a year earlier, another Iceland volcano – the Eyjafjallajokull – had forced the cancellation of thousands of flights across northern Europe for five days. Some 10 million travellers were stranded and airlines lost millions of dollars. The ash cloud caused by this year’s eruption of the Grimsvotn has not been as disruptive, but it has been enough to alter the itineraries of several notables.

U.S. President Barack Obama had to cut short his visit to Ireland on Monday 23 May due to the ash cloud. Barcelona’s soccer team travelling to London for the Champions League final against Manchester United, scheduled for Saturday 28 May, had to leave Spain on Tuesday, two days ahead of schedule, to avoid having its travel plans disrupted by volcanic ash, for a second consecutive year!

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