Experts express divergent views on airports concession

Even as the Federal Government has insisted that there was no going back on plans to commence the commercialisation of the airports beginning with the four international airports, stakeholders across the sector have expressed divergent views.

While some supported the move which they described as long over due, others cautioned against rushing to concession them in view of the earlier controversial concessions carried out.

The four airports that are slated for concessioning are those in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano.

As a way of showing commitment towards the decision, the government through the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika  had already set up two committees to midwife the process even as he assured  that the process would be transparent with all stakeholders carried along.

Despite the promise by the government to ensure due process is followed, stakeholders who gathered at a conference  entitled ‘Privatisation/ Concession of Nigerian Airports,’ convened by the Chief Executive Officer of CheckinNigeria, Michael Chikeka, have expressed reservations for the project.

For Olumide Ohunayo, a director at Zenith Travels,  “The airport management should be selected by an open and transparent process backed with international referral. I am not referring to the usual masquerades that form a ‘quickie’ consortium that will rush to the Corporate Affairs Commission for registration and win using ‘Padi- Padi’ in government. The essence will be defeated if we don’t have a management coy that we can key into their international contacts and tracks.

According to Captain Dele Ore, a former president, Aviation Round Table (ART), the best way to go was to concession the airport owing to many years of decay and inefficiency by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

He, however, cautioned  that the utilities to be concessioned should not end up in the hands of friends and families of those putting up the facilities for sale.

Senator Ben Murray Bruce, Chairman of  Privatisation committee of the senate said an outright privatisation like what was done in the United Kingdom would move the industry forward.

According to him, statistics had showed that governments that have accepted some kind of privatisation or concession has shown to be doing well as against those that have not.

He stated that Nigeria, along with Pakistan, Afghanistan and two others were at the bottom end of worse airports in the world while airports in Singapore, Dubai, Japan were on top of the food-chain and have been privatised unlike the previous he mentioned.

Speaking on the occasion, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren warned that  if government goes into this concession without resolving issues regarding earlier concessions, there will be a flurry of litigations. He maintained that air transport needed to be fixed or dire consequences will follow.

“When government doesn’t keep agreements, they destroy the industry. Right now we have to be clear on what concessioning is and what we are concessioning, we need to clear them, we need to know. Right now we are still building airports. The Chinese loan airports, they are still building, they have not operated and have not even determined when to transfer so what are we concessioning.”

“We must get the best of investors but we haven’t resolved the issues that are on ground, all the litigations all the conflicting agreements should be reviewed. Now are we going to concession the Chinese terminals too? It is a naïve question but I am naïve and government should come out with clear explanations.”

Demuren asked government to engage the unions saying “be honest about it and provide them with facts and figure as well as ensure they do not make pronouncements and go back on them.”

The Chief Executive Officer of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, operator of the ultra-modern Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2), Capt. Jari Williams who also spoke at the conference lamented that aviation has not been spared in the wind of controversial concessions, which he said have either failed or have been stalled by government.

He however threw his weight behind the planned concession of the four major airports by government.

“There are no two ways to save our almost derelict airport terminals than concession. Seeing the way MMA2 is being managed, the immediate past Minister of Aviation had recommended that more airports be taken away from FAAN and handed over to private managers.”

“It is good that the incumbent Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi accepted this recommendation without any sentiment or partisanship because it is a brilliant idea; it remains the best way out of the bad situation the country’s airport terminals are in right now.”