Air fare disparity: British govt dismisses FG’s threat

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By Kenneth Ehigiator & Victoria Ojeme
LAGOS — The British government, weekend, dismissed the Federal Government’s threat to ban foreign airlines operating in the country should they fail to reduce their fares on the expiration of the 30-day ultimatum served them on April 25, saying it stood by earlier position taken on the issue.

This came as former Aviation Minister, Prof. Babalola Borishade, advised the National Assembly to seek professional advice from outside the lawmaking chambers before engaging foreign airlines on fare disparity to be able to favourably resolve the issue in favour of the country.

British Deputy High Commissioner, Giles Lever, had said two weeks ago that Nigeria had no legal rights to ban foreign airlines operating in the country, insisting that fares charged by the two British carriers were in tandem with the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, between Nigeria and Britain.

Re-echoing the British government’s position on the issue, weekend, the country’s High Commissioner in Nigeria, Andrew Lloyd, in an online statement said his government had nothing new to add to what it said two weeks ago.

According to him, it is left to the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, to consider whether her action to ban foreign airlines was in the interest of the country.

He said: “We’ve got nothing further to add to the statements (by the deputy high commissioner) we’ve already  made on the issue. It is now for the minister to consider whether it is in Nigeria’s interest to take the action she has suggested against international airlines.”

Borishade advises NASS

Meanwhile, former Aviation Minister, Prof. Babalola Borishade, has charged the National Assembly to be on top of its game as it probes the foreign airlines today on fare disparity, saying the issue is a technical matter which requires the input of professionals in the aviation sector.

He said it would be ill-advisable for members of the Aviation Committees in the National Assembly to ask the airlines questions on issues they were not well grounded, stressing that this could create escape routes for the airlines.

Borishade urged the lawmakers to constitute a committee of professionals to grill the airlines and then fall back on the recommendations of the committee to take a decision, adding that during his tenure as aviation minister, he also had a running battle with the airlines over high fares and commends the present government for taking on the issue at present.

He said: “This is an observation that has been made sometime ago. Every time, we had always quarrelled with some of the foreign airlines that charge Nigerians arbitrarily but it is interesting that now attention is being paid at the right quarter, but that’s not the only industry Nigeria is being short-changed.

“We have been cheated in a number of other things. The amount you pay for visa in this country to some other countries is not the same thing as you pay in Ghana. So, there are a lot of other places we have to look at critically.

“In Europe, nobody knows what is first class, you are either in a business class or others. But again, because they know that we like conspicuous consumption and most of us are not using our money, they charge first class, the money they get for first class is enough to pay for every body.

NASS should do a thorough job

“I believe now that the National Assembly is looking at it, they need to do a thorough job but they need to do it professionally so that they don’t scare people away. We want investors to come, we don’t want to make rules that people would say it is a jungle rule. We have to be consistent and internationally correct about what we are doing.”

The foreign airlines and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, are appearing before the Senate today on the matter.

 

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