FEW measures taken by the Buhari administration in the bid to promote rapid economic growth, recovery and development can be compared with the recent announcement by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, that the Federal Government has set up a committee on the possibilities of concessioning two foremost airports – the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) in Abuja.
This development is coming rather late in our efforts to get the private sector more involved in managing our national assets, but it is welcome all the same.
Nigeria remains the only major capitalist economy in the world where government still builds and maintains airports with its own financial resources. This heavy burden is one of the reasons our annual budgets squander three-quarters of its receipts on recurrent expenditures. Yet, corrupt civil servants do not commit these funds to the maintenance of public assets.
For over thirty years, concessionaire agreements have become the global standard of public assets management. It should have been a strong element in our long history of privatisation and commercialisation, which started under military President Ibrahim Babangida some thirty years ago. If we had keyed into it since then, we would have gone far in addressing our massive infrastructure deficit while keeping existing ones well-maintained.
The wonderful, successful experiment we test-ran with the concession of the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 (MMA2) to Bi-Courtney, which brought the first airport terminal of international standard to Nigeria some years ago, should have spurred us to go into massive concessioning of our public facilities. This would have also helped in reducing the number of abandoned projects which disfigure the national landscape in a cynical manner.
Unfortunately, however, even the Bi-Courtney concession has remained stormy, partly because of poor facility management by the concessionaire and failure by stakeholders in the aviation industry to allow the scheme to succeed. The venture has since been mired in an expensive lawsuit.
We must learn our lesson from this experiment and ensure that the planned concession of Lagos and Abuja international airports will be smoother. We also advocate the eventual concessioning of the rest of our regional airports in Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, Ilorin, Sokoto, Calabar, Benin, Maiduguri, Yola, Owerri and Jos.
But care must be taken to ensure that we concession our national assets only to experienced, reputable and capable operators who have the financial muscle to add value to them. It must not be another bazaar for political opportunists as we have experienced in the privatisation of our national electricity power, refinery and iron/steel assets.
We can only succeed in our concession efforts when our government and its workers learn to abide by the terms of agreement and the laws of the land.