By Henry Umoru & Inalegwu Shaibu
ABUJA — The Senate, yesterday, summoned the British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Arik Airlines, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru and other stakeholders to appear before the Senate Committee on Aviation on Monday to answer questions on the violation of Aviation laws and air fare disparity by foreign airlines in Nigeria as well as the lapses in the operation of the regulatory agencies.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja, yesterday, Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodinma (PDP, Imo), promised that the committee would work within the time frame given by the Senate.
According to him, “it is our intention to ensure that the operation of civil aviation in Nigeria is comparable with what is obtainable in other places. If there is any money that Nigeria government has lost as a result of non-payment of taxes or what is due to them, we will do our best to make appropriate recommendations that will enable the various agencies recover such monies for government.
“You will recall that the Senate on March 28 mandated its Committee on Aviation to investigate allegation of series of violations of our aviation laws by foreign airlines and also investigate some allegations of negligence and lapses on the part of the regulatory agencies. Consequent upon this, we are starting a public hearing on Monday, the 16th of this month.
“We have invited critical stakeholders in the industry, we have invited air travellers and also the various agencies of government and the Minister of Aviation, including Foreign Affairs Minister. We included the Foreign Affairs ministry because there are also allegations that airlines and foreign countries are not complying with the provisions of our Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA.
“We have looked at the series of allegations and decided to do a thorough investigation. We are going to be committed to this assignment; we are going to discharge our duties without fear or favour. It is not going to be an investigation that will last for eternity. We are going to work within the time frame given to us by the Senate.”
It would be recalled that the Federal Government had warned British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and other foreign airlines operating in the country to take advantage of the 30-day ultimatum given them to dismantle their fare disparity or face the full wrath of the law.
But in a quick reaction to the government’s order, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Giles Lever, had declared that Nigeria had no legal rights to ban the British carriers over fare disparity, adding that a ban on either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic would amount to a breach of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, between both countries.
The Senate, however, declared that it would not join issues with the British government over the matter but carry out its mandate to the Nigerian people to investigate all the allegations against foreign airlines operating in Nigeria.