NIGERIA: Delayed Bailout Unsettles Aviation , Health Sector

There is no end yet in sight in the wait for Federal Government’s bailout for aviation and health sectors. The unfulfilled promise has left trails of hopelessness and frustration in the two industries as stakeholders lament their fate.

In the aviation industry, ministry officials had compounded the despondency by declaring they had no knowledge of any promised bailout, even as stakeholders have held tenaciously to a bailout announced by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika.

Some aviation officials, who spoke with our reporter yesterday, insisted they had no knowledge of any bailout plan, deepening doubt about the N27b said to have been approved for the purpose.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had said the ministry was working on a bailout for the operators. The pledge was reiterated by the Federal Government, which declared, in June, that the industry would be supported with the sum of N27 billion as part of measures to restart air travel and keep airports safer.

The sum, which was proposed to some of the operators, was to, besides supporting the airlines, fast-track the establishment of a private sector-driven national carrier.

The lump sum, which also includes operators and service providers as beneficiaries, was to cushion about N180 billion estimated to have been lost during lockdown.

A total of 18 airlines sent requests for the fund to the Central Bank in July but have yet to receive any response till date. Aviation workers’ unions also expressed disappointment at the turn of events, amid the hardship faced by workers in the sector.

The General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Ocheme Aba, noted that at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, “the Federal Government announced an intervention fund of N500b. And recently, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved N2.3tr intervention fund to assist businesses cope with the economic devastation occasioned by the pandemic.

“Up till now, aviation has yet to be impacted by these interventions despite the industry being the most negatively impacted by COVID-19. As a result, all aviation companies remain in dire economic straits.”

Aba added that more than 80 per cent of the aviation workforce in the private sector had, for the past four months, remained in penury while others survive on half or less salaries.

“Yet, these same workers are expected to return to work and continue to work on empty stomach until companies are able to pay salaries. It is not fair. It is also not the time for anyone to withdraw such critical support,” Aba said.

His counterpart at the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Frances Akinjole, said their greatest fear lay in the uncertainty that beclouds modalities for application of the intervention funds.

Akinjole said against the background of government’s stated purpose for the intervention – continuity of business, continuity of employment, and continuity of income for employees – “we have severally brought government’s attention to the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in partnership with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

“We are apprehensive that should government deviate from this well thought-out and comprehensive modalities, then the intervention might well be, like in the past, a mere bazaar or cash dole-out rather than bailout. This will do the industry no good. We, therefore, ask for both haste and due diligence in dealing with this issue,” Akinjole said.

IN the health care sector, it is about five months after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) released a circular on N100 billion credit for the health care sector. Drug manufacturers have, however lamented that less than five per cent, that is four firms, had accessed the fund despite application from over 65 firms.

Pharmacists and industrialists, under the aegis of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), yesterday, said local drug manufacturers might soon close shops as a result of the development.It noted that the situation had been made worse by the fact that most pharmaceutical finished pharmaceutical products were imported into Nigeria.

They blamed the situation on inconsistent government policies, which deterred potential investors and kill local drug manufacturing. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had on March 25, 2020, as part of proactive measures to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, introduced a N100 billion credit support intervention for the health care industry. This is with a view to strengthening the sector’s capacity to meet potential increase in demand for health care products and services.
Specifically, the scheme was to provide credit to indigenous pharmaceutical companies and other health-care value chain players intending to build or expand capacity.

The scheme is expected to increase private and public investment in the health care sector, facilitate improvement in health care delivery and reduce medical tourism to enhance foreign exchange conservation.

Chairman, PMG-MAN and Chief Executive Officer of Fidson Healthcare Plc, Dr. Fidelis Ayebae, told our reporter yesterday: “…We commended Mr. President on the CBN intervention support for the sector, we however emphasised the policy options, if not followed through will lead to policy summersault; we highlighted need for monetary policy to be in tandem with fiscal policy, but the question is are these policies followed through faithfully. Members are at loss why we should be commending the President when not up to five per cent of the members accessed this funds.

“Access to low interest rate finance has been a huge challenge for the industry, we have been advocating for N300 billion for members at nine per cent interest rate before COVID-19, we were excited when the CBN Governor made the pronouncement on the intervention, but then, the lending banks will prefer to give the loan to politicians, rather than to local manufacturers in our usual easy way out to solving problems in Nigeria. I think there are a lot of bottlenecks that made it most difficult for some companies to access the loan.”

Ayebae said emphasis on the CBN loan should not be only on making a business case for the lending bank, but on building sustainable, real economic growth in the pharmaceutical sector.

“We cannot make intervention today and expect result tomorrow. It requires focus and effort over a long period of time. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on donor medicines that come to Nigeria. I think the government should be putting a timeline to have those hundreds millions of dollars put into the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector yearly.”

He said Nigeria had the potential to be the leader of the pharmaceutical sector on the continent and beyond if efforts were channelled in that direction direction.”

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