Unions ask FG to halt airports concession, issues ultimatum to ground sector

  • FAAN, group spat over debts
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika has come under scathing criticisms over concession of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and the Abuja airport, calling on the Minister to halt the process or face total grounding of the aviation sector in 15 days.
The unions insisted that the planned concession of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano Airports in the first phase was taking the shape of Bi-Courtney and insisted that it would not allow it to stand.
Secretary General of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Olayinka Abioye, speaking at a media briefing yesterday at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos said the planned concession of the airports did not follow the due process.
In a related development, the unions accused the operator of Murtala Muhammed Airport; Lagos is indebted to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) over N2b since the commencement of operations by the firm in 2007.
The unions made up of NUATE, Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Pensioners (NUP) said that since the terminal operator started operations, it was yet to remit any amount of money to FAAN as agreed in the contractual agreement.
The breakdown of the debts according to the unions are Aviation Security; N1.2bn, Management Fee; N331 million, Fire and Safety; N131.2 million, Marshalling Service, N2.1 million, Electricity; N439 million, Rent and Conference, N87.8 million and Hotel N116.9 million.
But the Chairman of the Resort Group, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) has declared that Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) one of its subsidiaries does not owe the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) or the FAAN a dime.
Giving a historical account of how BASL does not owe AMCON, FAAN, the Resort Group Chairman stated that currently the Federal Government is indebted to BASL to the tune of N200billion being operations from the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) by Arik Air who refused to operate from the MMA2.
According to Babalakin, the agreement signed with government stated that all domestic operations from Lagos must emanate from the MMA, an agreement that Arik Air flouted leading to some arbitration and court cases that ended up in BASL’s favour.
While seeking the assistance of all and sundry for the payment of the N200b (two hundred billion naira) owed to Bicourtney Aviation Services by the Federal Government of Nigeria he said, ”As far back as 2012, the Federal High Court  awarded damages  of N132b ( one hundred and thirty two billion naira ) to Bicourtney Airways Limited.  Six appeals against the judgment in the Court of Appeal have been dismissed. Even the appeal to the Supreme Court by Arik Airlines through Ojemaie holdings was also dismissed. No nation can truly achieve its potential if it treats its dynamic citizens this way.”
He said,” MMA2 was built on the premise that all domestic flights from Lagos state must be operated from MMA2 and to ensure compliance government closed down the GAT completely. One day we woke up to discover that Arik has started flying from the GAT in defiance to the agreement.  And then we went for arbitration.”
The unions declared that the minister had an ulterior motive with the concession of the airports, adding that the Act establishing FAAN was not before the National Assembly for review or amendment to accommodate the concession.
He added: “Between then and now, the global communities are aware of this ignoble intention and plan to concession four airports, our national heritage and commonwealth and which are the cash cows of the industry, to ‘new investors’ from God knows where.
“The problem with us in the sector is not the ability of FAAN to manage its affairs properly and in the wisest of ways, but the continued ministerial/official meddlesomeness inflicted on the industry and the pauperisation, essentially, of FAAN through several policy somersaults, as no clear policy has been sustained in the last 25 years, arising from regular change of government and ministers who initiate ‘their’ own policies while dismantling existing ones, not minding the success or otherwise of such policies.”
The unions wondered how Sirika got to this point of concession model out of the many models available.
The unions urged the minister to allow the airports run as commercially oriented profitable concerns with accountability to shareholders, who may be government agencies or private investors.
The unions canvassed for the full commercialisation of FAAN without the usual political, ministerial, presidential official meddlesomeness and interference, which has been the bane of lacklustre performance and failure of the aviation system in Nigeria.
“Nigerian aviation workers have critically analysed the Public Private Partnership (PPP) concept as a veritable vehicle to drive the process of engendering revenue growth, quality service delivery and maintenance of facilities, infrastructures and returns on investment and accepted its workability, if driven with good intentions and in a transparent manner.
“Unfortunately for us and given the penchant with which our political class makes pronouncements without deep thoughts, we became deeply worried and hugely concerned about the haste, hush-hush and secret disposition of the minister in actualising this contraption without following due diligence as practiced worldwide while we have also observed with grave concern, the deceit and coercion that goes with the current process of concessions,” they added.
Wole Shadare