Confusion over FG plan to concession four airports

• As aviation unions plans to embark on nationwide protests

There was tension at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, on Tuesday, as the aviation unions gathered to map out strategies to use to frustrate the ongoing plans by the Federal Government’s plan to concession the four international airports across the country.

The unions made up of the National Association of Air Transport Employees (NUATE); Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), described the planned airport concession as a crime against the Nigerian people saying the plan must be resisted.

To show their displeasure towards the concession plan, the unions after a world press conference have announced their intention to embark on a nationwide protest against why they called the unsavoury machination of the government in the concession plan.

According to them: “These protests shall last as long as the idea to concession Nigerian airports remains alive. In furtherance of the objective, we have sought the support of the NLC, TUC and ULC for the purpose of escalating the processes of engagement and protests. Never again, with the unfortunate mistake of selling off national assets to government officials and their cronies as happened in the electricity sector, shall we allow such to happen in Nigeria. Never again!”

The unions through their representatives: Comrade Ocheme Aba, NUATE, Comrade Frances Akinjole, ATSSSAN, Comrade Abdulrazak Saidu, ANAP and Comrade Rmeka Njolu of NUP, FAAN branch all came hard on the minister of aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika in connivance with ICRC to take Nigerians for granted over what they called their failure to go through the required due diligence.

“As stated earlier, the Honourable Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, brandished, this past Thursday (June 25th 2020) the Certificate of Compliance issued him by the ICRC which purportedly confirms that the Minister has complied with all needed requirements to proceed with the process of concession for the four international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. Therefore, the Minister will now proceed to seek the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for his proposed Outline Business Case (OBC) for the project.

“But it is highly regrettable that both the Minister and the ICRC are engaging in a ruse, and are indeed taking Nigerians for a ride. We can say with authority that everything so far about the issue of concession for the four airports has been single-handedly decided by the Honourable Minister himself, and the ICRC has not carried out any due diligence on to the concession exercise. If it did, the Commission would have discovered wide gulfs of deception in the exercise.

“For example, while the Project Delivery Team (PDT) – which includes the ICRC – was still discussing the issue of Transaction Adviser (TA), the Honourable Minister of Aviation was on-air announcing the approval of FEC of a TA and his fees. Both the TA and the fees were apparently decided solely by the Minister. Up till date, the PDT has not been allowed to take a position on the matter, its effort in that direction being frustrated surreptitiously.

“Also, at the last meeting of the Project Delivery Team, in late 2019, it was decided that the airports’ concession issue be degraded to the bottom of the list of aviation priority projects while upgrading the National Carrier, Aviation Leasing Company, and the Aircraft Maintenance and Repair Organisation for quick delivery. In addition, the ICRC was requested to provide the required components for the OBCs for the upgraded projects which the Commission promised to provide at the next meeting. That next meeting is yet to be called till date. But now, the same ICRC has been said to have issued a Certificate of Compliance (C of C) to the Honourable Minister of Aviation for the Outline Business Case for the concession of four international airports. So we ask, who is fooling who?

“We are compelled by pressing circumstances in the world of aviation in Nigeria to call this press conference to enable us to speak to certain unsettling developments in our industry.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic continues its relentless march against our lives and livelihood, wreaking untold havoc in aviation. Under this challenging times, the Ministry of aviation insists on the mass movement of employees from Lagos to Abuja in its unheralded bid to relocate the headquarters of aviation agencies and caring nothing about the health and wellbeing of employees. The promised intervention fund for the economic recovery of aviation concerns remains largely in the realm of conjecture, notwithstanding the recent approval of same by the Federal Executive Council. And in the midst of the crisis, we saw the Minister of Aviation dancing to unheard tunes, wearing a strange costume called Certificate of Compliance designed by the Infrastructural Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). This has raised the decibel of the existing cacophony to dizzying heights.”

Speaking on the planned airport concession, the unions accused the minister of aviation of sidestepping all the statutory and “has gone ahead with his own programs as determined by himself alone. Our Unions have decided that we shall have to review our membership of the PDT if this type of public deceit and shenanigan continue.

“For now, however, being a component part of the Team, we completely disown any false reports of the Team there might be, upon which the ICRC might have erroneously based the issuance of the said C of C. We avow hereby that the said Certificate is obtained on faulty grounds.

“Based on the above, we hereby alert President Muhammed Buhari, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the National Assembly and the general public not to be deceived by the “celebrated” Certificate of Compliance from the ICRC and not to approve the privately assembled Outline Business Case. This outline, for reasons stated, cannot be detached from individual embedded interests and maybe a self-favouring booby trap.

“Apart from this unwholesome circumstance, it is already in the public domain that our Unions are vehemently opposed to the selective concession of Nigeria’s four major international airports.”

Among.the reasons given by the unions for opposing the concession plans include; the previous privatization of which concession as a form, has turned Nigeria into a huge theatre of the absurd. “The Nigerian experience in privatisation leaves a very sore taste in the mouth, even for a person with no taste bud. Check it out: Ajaokuta Steel Complex, steel rolling mills, NITEL, PHCN, and so many more. All tell tales of squander and plunder, with nothing to recommend that method of business to any Nigerian government. In aviation, we have not been spared from concession foul odour. The story of the failed privatisation of the then National Carrier, the Nigeria Airways which took the Airline’s life is still reverberating since 2004.

“The concession of MMA2 to Bi-Courtney remains the biggest example of how not to concession an airport. All ongoing concessions of economic activities of FAAN have only resulted in losses in revenue to the Authority. With all these at the back of our minds, we ask, dear God, why any Nigerian Government official would choose to waste public funds in chasing shadows in the name of privatising airports when nothing whatsoever has changed about the Nigerian situation. Already, the circumstances surrounding the ICRC issuance of Certificate of Compliance to the Minister of Aviation has clearly demonstrated that personal interest cannot be extricated from Nigeria’s privatisation experience.

The unions also described the decision to concession four out of 22 airports as the height of subterfuge saying: “These four airports are the live wire of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and the rest of the airports depend on the four for sustenance. As a matter of fact, without the four, the other airports will die automatically. Therefore, to concession these four airports are to close up FAAN completely. But considering the basis of creating these other airports which are the public interest of opening up the entire country, even nationwide development, and national unity, one would wonder the rationale behind the idea of sacrificing these undeniably noble goals on the altar of a superficial notion of private investment. “Should the urge to have beautiful airports override our national needs for integration? What about the employees in these other airports who are being sustained by the revenue from the four airports? Do their lives and that of their dependants not matter to the government? Should the so-called drive for private investment be allowed to drive up our unemployment ranks, especially at this critical time? What of the economies of the States that will collapse with the collapse of the airports? Should we bear all these maladies just because some individuals are smart enough to cook up a scheme that hoodwinks government into short-changing the people, with national interests supplanted by internal naivety and avarice?”

While arguing that many people confused.the situation that took place in the telecoms sector some years back with privatisation, the unions said “what took place that brought in today’s mobile networks was liberalisation or deregulation, whereby private firms purchased licenses to operate mobile telecommunication companies to compete with government-owned companies. Our Unions advocate that the same thing could apply to the airports’ space in aviation. Individuals or companies who desire and who meet given criteria may obtain licenses to build and operate airports wherever they choose. The same situation presently exists in the oil and gas sector where the government has resisted the sale of the NNPC. As such the Dangote Refinery and the EKO Petrochem and Refinery Company are both licensed refineries to compete with the NNPC. There are also several modular refineries that are coming up. Why should the case of Nigerian airports not be the same? And why should Nigeria hand over the commonwealth of Nigerians to opportune individuals to the detriment of the country and other Nigerians?

“As far as we know, the Transaction Adviser has yet as at date, not submitted the report of the scope of the Transaction to the Project Delivery Team. This raises the big question as to what is really being concessioned at those airports. The whole airport? Or, are we to believe that only Terminals will be concessioned? Or facilities within the terminals? No one knows, except the Honourable Minister of Aviation. And this draws attention to the opaque nature of the concession conjecture.

“In a hurry to achieve the desired end, the Minister has conveniently but dangerously neglected the primacy of national security in the life of a nation. Based on our current experiences with security, can we afford at this critical time, or in the near future, to open up our national security to private persons, especially foreign elements, considering the place of international airports in the national security architecture?

“Of serious concern is the fact that the airports’ concession exercise is being directly carried out by the Honourable Minister of Aviation, whereas he does not run any airport, nor does the FAAN Act grant him any powers to concession FAAN assets. The Honourable Minister has completely usurped the functions of the Management and the Governing Board of the Authority. As such he has unlawfully arrogated to himself the powers to enter into agreements in the place of FAAN. This is to the extent that there is now no difference between the Ministry of Aviation and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). This is a serious infraction; a travesty and an anomaly.”

On what they called credible alternatives. The unions declared that in the realisation of the need to “credibly dissuade the government away from the concession of our four major international airports that led aviation Unions to join forces and came up with some credible alternatives as against the misguided contraption of concession. We are thus, again, reiterating some of the options we had severally presented before the unrepentant advocates of concession, viz: Green Field concession. This model empowers new investors to deal on fresh ventures which include the construction of new runways, terminal buildings and so forth to be operated for a specified period of time and compete with the existing airports before handing them over to the government.

“Or the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) can be corporatised in which the Federal Government shall retain 45% equity share while the remaining 55% is broken down for public acquisition. This is the model adopted by some other climes in a similar circumstance as ours, like South Africa. and this would build investors’ confidence and attract foreign Direct Investment (FDI), making the much desired infrastructural decay to be attended to, while Labour related issues would be at the barest minimum, or

“The unions also made case for complete autonomy of FAAN without the usual political meddlesomeness from the Ministry and the Presidency which has been the bane of effective and efficient performance of the aviation sector in Nigeria.

“For the avoidance of doubt, our Unions with all aviation workers, particularly FAAN workers and pensioners, will not co-operate with the concession program of the Honourable Minister of Aviation and will use every resource at our disposal to ensure that the machinations of the few against public interest ends here. The concession of Nigerian airports in the opaque manner prescribed by the Honourable Minister of Aviation must be denied daylight so as to suffer perpetual darkness.”


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