By Tordue Salem, Abuja
The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika on Thursday warned the National Assembly against compelling agencies in his sector, to remit operating surpluses.
He said any legislation of such, would negatively affect the industry.
The Minister, made the plea while making a presentation at a public hearing on bills to amend the Nigeria Civil Aviation Agency, NCAA, Nigeria Aviation Management Agency, NAMA, Nigeria Meteorological Agency, NIMET, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, NCAT, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN and Aviation Safety Investigation Bureau.
His words: “Regarding operating surplus, it is our position that we look at the volatility of air travel and how it can easily be affected by a simple event thereby causing losses in the centrality of FAAN in the security architecture of the country as well as its importance and significance to the economy.
We believe that giving operating surplus will further cripple the activities of FAAN and its significance in the national security architecture. With your kind understanding, I think aviation agencies should be relieved of this huge burden of operating surplus.
“For us in civil aviation, especially in the ministry, we believe that this policy should have been scientifically done because what is an operating surplus for FAAN may not be operating surplus for NPA or for NNPC or CBN. So, there should have been a scientific formula for calculating operating surpluses, not a blanket 25 per cent because it can man everything for me and mean nothing for the next guy. So, I think it is not scientific and even with the scientific formula, I think for the importance of civil aviation, it should be jettisoned.
“Coming to the submission that airports are built for political reasons and therefore does not make sense, I cannot remember any airport in Nigeria that has no political consideration. When the airport was to be built in Lagos, it was simple, because it was the seat of power at that time because civil aviation had not grown enough to make sense and built an airport in Lagos.
The same applies to Abuja. When they created an airport in Abuja, it was purely a political decision and political reason and not economic. So, airports are to built either for political, commercial or even security reasons. So, for me, the more airports you have, the merrier because they have their significance and importance. It is important to the Nigerian nation. So, I think it should be celebrated that we are building airports for political reasons.
“I think the right authority to be quoted is the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority in this regard. Administration suggests that you are running an entity, while authority connotes regulation
“I want to underscore the importance of airports and FAAN. They are no longer places that aircraft would land and take off. They are part of our national security architecture they have also become places for commerce and trade. These are business places with all the paraphernalia of security around them. So, we should take it with all the importance it requires and I think Mr President was apt, having regard to the existing law of FAAN and order that aviation security should bear arms. We have seen what has happened at airports and how countries are crippled one their airports are under attack. So, we will secure our airports and it is very important to consider them as national security assets.
Sirika added that “There are countries that are much more comfortable, eg Qatar which is the richest country on earth today, they have the best airport in the world. After being built, it has been concessioned because the private sector has the managerial capacity to manage it and get the best out of it. We are not saying that FAAN cannot manage the airport, but we are not getting the best out of it. The fact that we borrowed money to build an airport is a better excuse for wanting to make much more from them. But these arguments will come when we discuss the issue because we are not ready to lag behind the world.
“Sometimes, people want better service from FAAN and also asking that debts be waived. There are agencies that have been owing FAAN for a long time and have not paid. They want services but don’t want to pay for the services. On one hand, they want the debt to be waived, on the other hand, they want service from FAAN. FAAN should begin to operate maximally and take what belongs to it maximally as well.
“The issue of the Chinese loan has been coming up. If the decision was to made under my supervision, I would not have supported the government taking a loan to build an airport. It would have been that the private sector is invited to invest in our airports because it makes more sense to me than borrow money to build these airports. Now that the money has been borrowed, it has to be paid because it is part of our collective national debt, just like the rail, roads and others. Government and the entities involved must find a way to pay these loans because they are international treaties and agreements and so, we will not abandon them.
“The question of some sort of autonomy for FAAN, ideally, all these agencies under Aviation should have some degree of autonomy. That is why governing boards are important. Under the constitution, the office of the Ministers was established. But the Ministry can also establish agencies to carry out certain functions. The Ministry has to be an overseer over these agencies. Unless you are going to privatize, we are not willing to sell public assets, but we can give them to people who can make a better income for government and better welfare for workers.
The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation chairman, Rep. Nnolim Nnaji, earlier, assured that the proposed acts on civil aviation will address multiple designations granted foreign airlines in Nigeria.
Rep. Nnolim responding to the complaints by airlines and participants at the second day of the public hearing on amendment Bills on civil aviation Acts regarding the policies of the government that tend to undermine the survival of indigenous airline operators agreed that such arrangement was detrimental to the growth of the industry.
He stressed that “the Committee has taken note of the challenges such policy was posing to the local airlines and would see how the new laws could address the matter.
It was the opinion of the participants that all foreign airlines operating into the country should be given the approval to operate to only one destination in Nigeria and any point beyond should be through a code share with indigenous operators.
Recall that the chairman, Honourable Nnaji had earlier even before the inauguration of the Committee voiced his opposition to this same policy.
The airlines also made the strong case over their inability to access foreign exchange officially from the Central Bank while foreigns are given special windows to access foreign exchange and repatriate their ticket s’ proceeds seamlessly.
It was the consensus of the speakers that similar window should be created for local airlines by the Central Bank of Nigeria to enable the operators to access enough foreign exchange to fund their aircraft maintenance and acquisition.
The issue of high-interest rate on loans was equally raised by the airlines which according to them sometimes would go higher than twenty-five percent as against the single-digit interest rate in some other climes.
Honourable Nnaji, however, suggested that the airlines, the agencies would need to meet with the Committee to iron out areas of conflicts so that the new laws could stand the test of time by the time they are passed.