By Kenneth Ehigiator
LAGOS — The federal Government has stayed action on ban of foreign airlines over fare disparity to allow the Senate conclude its investigation on the matter.
It, however, said the halt of the ban was temporary, as it would still be effected after the Senate had concluded its probe on the issue.
Government had planned to ban the airlines at midnight yesterday should they fail to adjust their fares to tally with those charged in other countries in West Africa, especially Ghana.
But a statement in Abuja, yesterday, by Special Adviser, Media, to the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Joe Obi, on behalf of his boss, Princess Stella Oduah, said going ahead with the ban without allowing the Senate to conclude its investigation would amount to disrespecting the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
Besides, Obi said the Aviation Ministry had been in serious negotiations with the foreign airlines, particularly British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways, on reduction of fares.
The statement read: “On March 26, 2012, a 30-day ultimatum was issued to all foreign airlines operating in Nigeria to dismantle their fare disparity within the West African coast or face a ban from operating into the Nigerian airspace. That ultimatum expired today.
“Ever since the ultimatum was issued, a lot of developments have occurred. There have been consultations and negotiations between the Nigerian and British authorities with regard to the operations of BA and VAA.
“Negotiations involving other foreign carriers have also been on-going. But the most significant development since the issue broke out was the intervention of the House of Representatives and the Senate, given the high interest the question of fare imbalance generates across the country.
“Currently, the intervention /investigation of the Senate Committee on Aviation is still on-going. The first phase of that investigation was the public hearing where all interested/affected stakeholders made various representations to the committee.
“While the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah, insists that the regional fare imbalance must be dismantled, with severe consequences for all airlines that fail to comply, it is, however, imperative to allow the Senate investigation to take its full course.
“As a result, the proposed ban of all airlines that fail to restore fare parity has been put on hold in the interim in deference to the ongoing intervention effort of the Senate and the National Assembly.
“Action in this regard will be determined at the conclusion of the Senate investigation in order not to prejudice the outcome of the committee report as well as accord due respect and recognition to the current effort of the institution of the National Assembly at resolving the issues in the best interest of the nation.”
The Senate is expecting the probe report from its Committee on Aviation in the next two weeks.
Charging the committee with responsibility for the probe, Senate President, David Mark, had described fares charged by the airlines, especially British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways, as exploitative of Nigerians.
He had said: “It (high fares) has been on for a long time and our regulatory agencies are, in fact, part of the problems because they have refused to act in anyway that would force British Airways to reduce its fares.
“It is exploitative and no body should be allowed to exploit Nigerians. The prices given are completely out of range; it is unreasonable; it is exploitative and nobody should tell us to sit down here and not do anything about it because Nigerians are willing to pay.”