The group, under the aegis of Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), supported the concession plan amid the current row. They, however, demanded that the initiative be transparent and should begin on a clean slate.
Recall that the aviation workers’ unions are warming up for a nationwide showdown in protest against the airport concession programme, which the Federal Government has pledged to execute without looking back.
While the government has reiterated that the concession plan was irreversible because of its lean purse to cater and operate airports efficiently, the union argued that giving critical facilities to profit-driven private investors was not in the best interest of Nigerians.
The government had since 2017 begun moves to concession all the 22 airports nationwide, beginning with the big four in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano. Coincidentally, the big four are beneficiaries of a 2013 loan deal between Nigeria and China to build four new terminals for the four airports.
Speaking at a webinar forum, which was focused on airport concession, ASRTI unanimously acknowledged that the concession of airport terminals was necessary to reduce financial burden on the Federal Government for airports infrastructure development management.
They said the concession of the terminals should not just be a departure from the status quo, but with an objective to deliberately drive regional competitive hubs as well as mega carriers that will operate in those hubs.
Chairman of ASRTI, Dr. Gbenga Olowo, urged the Ministry of Aviation to ensure that the terminal concession process was transparently conducted in compliance with the extant laws and due process to avoid post-agreement controversies and rancour as previously experienced.
In addition, Olowo said the government should in its current concession plan consider the totality of all the 22 airport terminals.
“All existing legal, labour, and other complications arising from previous experiments should be conclusively resolved. Therefore, there is a need for the government to allay the fears of the unions and employees of FAAN with regards to the planned concession. The process must be fair and transparent.
“The controversies surrounding the various concession agreements between FAAN and AIC Ltd., Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, Maevis Ltd., Toll Plaza Operator and all other such agreements should be resolved as soon as possible by parties involved, before moving on to sign new concession agreements in order not to discourage prospective investors,” he said.
Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, defended the plan to concession the major airports despite protests, saying the government had no money to invest in aviation infrastructure.
Sirika explained that at stake was the concession of the terminals and not the airports as a whole, as misinterpreted by some people.
He said unlike what the past administration tried to do by selling off the airports, the government’s dwindling revenue made it imperative to consider private partnership in the provision of airport infrastructure.
He disclosed that the Murtala Muhammed International Airport terminal that was built in 1979 for 200,000 passengers currently processes nearly eight million passengers, lamenting that the facilities have been overstretched.
“What we are trying to do is to keep assets of the people for the people. We are not trying to sell the assets of Nigerians like the last administration tried to do. What we are doing is for good service delivery. They will revert back to the people. What they are doing is to assist to provide these facilities. Government has no money to pump into airports,” Sirika said.
Chairman, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), at the webinar, noted that the inability of the Federal Government to honour agreements it signed with the private investors was the bane of low capital inflow and underdevelopment of the sector.
Babalakin, however, expressed delight at FAAN’s decision to amicably resolve conflicts over MMA2 with BASL.
He described the development as “breath of fresh air” unlike in the past when the airport authority engaged in Gestapo manner to take over MMA2.
“Only private sector can finish projects on schedule because they have the funds. If MMA2 had been allowed to go at its pace, we would have expanded and built airport terminals better than they have in Accra. We had plans to build a monorail that will link Lagos airport international terminal to the domestic terminal. We had plans to build a power plant for Lagos airport,” he said.
Former Director-General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, on his part, warned that nobody would invest in aviation in the country until all concession issues pending in court are not resolved.
Demuren said: “We need to resolve all issues regarding policy inconsistencies that came with many of these concessions. We inherited problems with Chief Harry Akande and Dr. Wale Babalakin’s concessions, and FAAN should sit down to resolve all lingering issues before we go ahead with this new exercise.”
Other participants called on the government to make the concession exercise very transparent so as not to replace public monopoly with private sector monopoly, but one that would truly serve the interest of Nigerians.