Nigeria’s Aviation Roadmap Should Not Become An Aviation Mishap, Says Aviation Unions
A statement jointly issued today by a coalition made up National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP) titled THAT THE AVIATION ROAD MAP MAY NOT BECOME AN AVIATION MISHAP reads:
“About seven years ago at the sunrise of the Muhammadu Buhari regime, the Minister of Aviation, senator Hadi Sirika, came up with what he themed Aviation Road Map. This consisted of six flagship projects conceived as signposts of his stewardship. The projects include establishment of a national carrier, Maintenance, Repair& Overhaul, aircraft leasing company, agro-allied airports, aerotropolis, and concessioning of the four major international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt.
For inexplicable reasons none of the above projects has been delivered up till now. It is therefore not surprising that the Hon. Minister is presently in a frenzy in an effort to deliver these projects, beingthatthis administration is at its twilight. This rush to deliver at all cost has expectedly occasioned suspicion and a plethora of missteps which if not corrected will spell doom for the aviation industry in Nigeria, and which may proof exceedingly costly to amend in future.
To be clear, we agree that these projects are vital for the good health of the industry. That the current administration does not own the credit for conceptualizing these projects, and that Aviation Road Map has been a recurrent theme in the Aviation Ministry for as long as one can call to mind underscores the relevance of these projects to the improvement of the Nigerian aviation industry. Truth be told, the fact that these projects remain undelivered to this day is an attestation to the tardiness of successive federal regimes over the years. This means that our unions will join other Nigerians to celebrate the delivery of the Road Map. But, we have course to seriously worryabout the manner of delivery. More crucially, we are concerned about whether what is being delivered is actually what Nigerians crave. That is the crux of the matter.
We wish not to be misunderstood, however. So we place on record our recognition of the large footprints of the Muhammadu Buhari Administration on the aviation industry in Nigeria. The progress registered through the efforts of the Minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, and the CEOs of the agencies in the past seven years, are indeed indelible. Though not visible to the larger public, huge modernization programs and projects have been achieved in the Nigeria Metrological Agency (NiMet),Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigerian Air Space Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). These achievements have not only significantly improved flying experience in the Nigerian air space, but have had big impact on human capacity development and safety. Dispassionate industry insiders cannot but praise these efforts that are clearly beyond what the industry has witnessed before now.
However, our hearts are now greatly troubled to be witnesses to the ongoing bastardization of the lofty objectives of the Aviation Road Map. Ordinarily, the attainment of the flagship projects ought to act as consummation of the benefits of the substantial investments made by Government in facilities upgrade in the agencies. But, activities around the implementation of the road map tend to suggest that a ploy is afoot to deny Nigeria of the benefits of its labour and natural endowments, or to divert such to private ends. Nothing evidences this more than the fact that key decisions and actions around the projects are taken outside the statutory organs of the ICRC; the Project Delivery Team in which our unions are represented for example. Such important questionable actions include appointment of Transaction Advisers and approval of Business Cases for all the projects.
For the purpose of today’s meeting, and since this is a meeting of FAAN workers and pensioners, our focus shall be on Airports Concessioning.
Of all the projects under the Aviation Road Map, our Unions have been most vocal over airports concessioning. This should not be surprising considering the potential negative impact on the large staff and pensioner strengths of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, the agency undertaking the concession.
Ever since the decision to concession the four most major airports, our Unions have been strongly opposed to the idea. And when the Outline Business case was made open to the public, we have been firm and vehement in our opposition to the type of concessioning envisioned by the Transaction Adviser, for good reason. We unearthed several booby traps, outright falsehoods and deliberate manipulation of facts to skew the transaction against the interest of Nigeria, which we communicated to the Minister and other arms of government. Some of the loopholes we found include:
- Extending the scope of the concession to the surroundings of the terminals, up to FAAN housing estates without taking such into account in the assets valuation.
- Whilst stating that the terminals require no further investments for the envisaged period of the concession, yet without any real basis determined humongous investment budgets for intending concessionaires.
- Arbitrary fixing of profit sharing ratio (60:40) in favour of the concessionaire.
- Playing the ostrich in connection with existing concessions and plethora of live litigations over the airports to be concessioned.
- Being dangerously silent on labour issues.
- Transgressions against the ICRC Act. For example, the concession is being undertaken by the Ministry of Aviation, and not by FAAN which negates the Act.
- Overlooking the wiser choice of going for Management Contract option instead of concession, considering that the airportsin question are all brand new.
- Overlooking the very serious implication of handing such important national security assets over to foreigners.
Based on these and many more issues raised by us over the obnoxious OBC, the FAAN management set up a management/Unions Committee to scrutinize our objections. The Committee, which consisted of representatives from Ministry of Aviation, the ICRC, the management of FAAN and the Unions failed to offer any pragmatic solution to the imbroglio. Not even the Transaction Adviser himself could explain the many volte pax in the OBC.
Following the stalemate, another approach was proffered which brought about visitations to international airports in other countries being operated under concession. Since our return from the visitations, we have been clamouring for the reconvening of the joint committee to afford the ventilation of the experiences garnered from the visits, but to no avail. Instead, the Minister has now quickened the tempo of the implementation of the concession while remaining under the umbrella of the obnoxious OBC, thereby leaving the Unions and FAAN staff/pensioners in limbo.
It has therefore, become imperative for our unions to take actions to safeguard the legitimate interests of the workers to be negatively impacted by the unwholesome concession exercise. It is also unavoidable that our Unions, being corporate citizens, activate a citizens’ rights agenda to prevent abuse of our common patrimony by those in power. Accordingly, the following action plan will be implemented immediately.
- Call on the Federal Executive Council to halt further approvals on the airports concession programme, and indeed any other Aviation Road Map project, pending a comprehensive forensic audit of the projects undertaken up to this point. It is our firm belief that such audit will expose the activities so far to be wasteful of public funds, and to be tilted away from national good. This is the least the Council can do in order to redeem itself, in the face of the accusation that the Federal Executive Council has so far been railroaded into giving consent to bad deals for the Country.
- Call on the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), and Civil Society Organizations to mobilize all Nigerian workers and the Nigerian people to join in our effort to rescue our common patrimony from the grasp of the powers that be in the aviation industry.
- Call on FAAN staff and pensioners, and indeed the entire aviation workers, to stand ready for the fight of our lives in defense of our genuine rights and interests, and to save our industry from ruination.
- Call on all patriotic Nigerians to join this once and for all battle to tell our elected leaders that our national assets do not belong to the few opportune individuals in government and their cronies for them to share and plunder, nor do they have powers to act as they please over national interests without our consent.
- Call on all firms that are interested in partaking in the opportunities inherent in the Aviation Road Map to tarry a while and not commit their useful funds to the current arrangements in respect of the road map projects. Any firm that chooses to neglect this advice does so at their own peril, for our Unions will do everything rightly possible to ensure that all such unwholesome efforts do not bear fruit until the right things are done. Particular reference must be made to the airport concession bidders and those related to Nigeria Air. We are shouting, “buyers beware”.
- Call on the Hon. Minister of Aviation to put his plan to demolish the Headquarters of FAAN, NAMA, and NCAA in Lagos on hold pending proper evaluation, planning and better timing. We consider that this plan, in the name of the so called aerotropolis, is ill intended, ill advised,and wrongly timed. We hereby serve notice that any attempt to demolish any of these buildings at this time will be met with immediate action of cessation of work at all airports in Nigeria accompanied by public demonstrations nationwide.
- Call for the urgent review of the Concession of the MMA2 being operated by Bi-Courtney Aviation. The continuation of this concession without a valid agreement with FAAN, and the unending alterations of the concession period by the concessionaire unilaterally without challenge is clear evidence that those in power care little about national interest. Our unions will commence our dissent against the current opaque exercise by declaring operation occupy of the MMA2 in conjunction with the NLC, TUC, and Civil Society.
We wish to seize this opportunity to join other aviation stakeholders and well-meaning Nigerians to condemn in strong terms the intention of the Ministry of Aviation to cede majority shareholding in the national carrier, Nigeria Air, to Ethiopian Airlines. This intention is perplexingly self-defeating and a complete negation of all the objectives earlier canvassed for the setting up of the national carrier. And we have no choice than to call for the outright cancellation of the plan. What we want is a national carrier that will, through hard work, surpass Ethiopian Airlines and compete with other global airlines, and not a shameful appendage of Ethiopian airlines. If Nigeria wishes to join forces with Ethiopia to form a mega African carrier, that would be a noble thing. But then, the two parties should determine the form of partnership in a manner befitting our status, that enhances attainment of our civil aviation objectives and goals, and which does credit to our national pride. The decision to gift our Bilateral Air Services Agreements to Ethiopian Airlines for a mere 5% shareholding in our national carrier beats all reasoning and must be rescinded without argument.
The foregoing give fillip to our firm resolve to defend the rights and interest of our members, safeguard our industry from being led into retrogression, protect national interest against predatory and annihilating tendencies, and ultimately bring about much desirable sanity in our national life. To this end, the airports concessions must be subjected to thorough scrutiny to ensure that all valid interests are protected and that the cause of the nation is properly served. The national carrier must be steered away from stunted growth. The proposed national hangar should integrate the Akwa Ibom MRO that has already reached advanced stage, together with other smaller MROs, rather than another grandiose, wasteful startup which has potential for capital flight and emasculation of other outfits. Ditto other aspects of the Aviation Road Map.
All in all, the ball is now in the court of the federal Executive Council to make or mar. It is in the hands of FEC to dismantle the anti-Nigeria behemoth called aviation road map. The alternative is to court the angst of Nigerians and sow the seeds of a revolution of a proportion never before witnessed. We are convinced that the Council, being a body of noble Nigerians will do the right thing and call the Minister of Aviation to order. We pray.”