Ahead of the public hearing by the House of Representatives to take a holistic look at the concession of major airports across the country, aviation stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to resolve all pending partnership disputes to boost investors’ confidence in the airport concession plan. 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. It would be recalled 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.
The group 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 quobut 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.
A 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.