“We have met the enemy and they are [our own people]” – O H Perry, 1785-1819, Vanguard Book of Quotations, P. 48

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, is increasingly creating an image of a man who can have big dreams for Nigeria; but, who ends up with nightmares.

As one of his strongest supporters on his two major initiatives – Nigeria Air and Airport Concession – it is becoming clear that none of those objectives will be achieved by the time the Buhari administration comes to a dreary end in 2023.

With Nigeria Air, our Honourable Minister has created a situation which is akin to the tail wagging the dog. Otherwise, how does one characterise a company in which the shareholder with two per cent stake in the business brazenly appoints the Managing Director? Nigeria Air is heading for a crash before its maiden flight –  taking  billions of Naira and unknown amount of dollars  down with it.

However, if ever there is a glaring case of highly-placed Nigerians working in the national interest, the way the Ministries and Agencies of the Federal Government working on airports concession provides a clear example. Regular readers of this column must be aware that I have taken a keen interest in the FG’s plan to concession four airports – Abuja, Kano, Lagos and Port Harcourt international airports. They also happen to be the only really viable airports in the country.  Almost all the state-owned airports are shedding red ink on their balance sheets

The FG, in another fit of absent-mindedness recently acquired the moribund Gombe airport. Such irrational acquisition of more liability by an “Almajiri Government” – defined as one going about with a begging bowl, summarises why Nigeria will certainly be worse in 2023 than in 2015. No modern President runs government on sentiments on ethnic considerations. 

If Buhari is looking for ailing airports to acquire, he can have a choice among the likes of Ibadan, Akure, Minna and Asaba – among others littering the Nigerian landscape. The only time Minna airport comes alive is when dignitaries visiting  Babangida  fly in with private jets. There is no regular flight scheduled for that airport.  

It has always been my position, one which all patriotic Nigerians should endorse, that if we must concession the airports, then Nigerians must have the right of first refusal. As a matter of fact, I will go further. Nigerians must control those airports; first on account of their strategic military importance and second because they will generate foreign exchange. 

To give away four foreign exchange mints to foreigners is the worst sort of idiocy imaginable.

I even contacted several state governors, especially those whose states are directly affected – Lagos, Kano and Rivers – in a bid to enlist their support for the idea of ensuring that Nigerians gain control. Shockingly, even those blowing hot about their love for Nigeria ignored the call. Now, the airports are nearing concession, and it has taken an NGO and unelected Nigerians to go to court in order to put a stop to the unpatriotic intentions of Nigeria’s officials – especially in the Ministry of Justice; which is now swimming in scandals from Paris Club refund to Ajaokuta Steel contract settlement.

Saved by the smell; enter our saviours  

“Group sues FG over airport concession bid irregularities” – News Report.

I almost missed the report; which was tucked into the innermost pages of a national newspaper. There it was, a group of patriotic Nigerians, under the aegis of Centre for Transparency and Defence of Human Rights, CTDHR, has dragged the FG to court “over alleged irregularities in the bid process for the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, MMIA.” I will come to the substance of the charges shortly. But, a  comment is necessary before proceding.

I certainly hope the allegation is untrue; because, if it is true, it will prove once again that Nigerian government officials cannot be relied upon to conduct any business transaction involving tons of money without the ever-present stench of corruption. National interest is never the motivation for them to do a commendable job. They must leave grave doubts about their honesty.

This particular suit actually points accusing fingers at the Federal Ministry of Justice – headed by Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN. The Attorney-General for the Federation, AGF, is already involved in three other controversial businesses –  the lack of transparency in accounting for items forfeited to the FG and Abacha loot,  the Paris Club Refund to states  and the Ajaokuta Scheme or scam (depending on how you look at it).

Irrespective of which of these you choose to study, you have to hold your nose on account of the rot you will encounter.

Now, let us return to the allegation levelled against the FG by CTDHR. The group is urging the court to disqualify two of the companies, TAV Airport and GMR Airport Limited for dishonesty and misrepresentation. The two companies, contrary to  the requirements of the bidding process, are owned by the same company –Airport De Paris, ADP. The attention of the AGF was drawn to this infraction as far back as June. The Minister of Justice still  qualified bidders. The court will eventually decide on that. I will be watching closely.

Instead, I want to pay tribute to  Mr Kunle Edun, Executive Director, CTDHR, and his colleagues for saving Nigeria from a fate worse than death – metaphorically speaking. Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, or their equivalents elsewhere, apart from being learned, are also supposed to be men of integrity and patriotic. 

They are also presumed to be highly intelligent. It is baffling to me that a Nigerian SAN cannot see that it is not in our national interest to concession our airports to foreigners. What happens if in the future the US and EU decide to ask all their companies operating in Nigeria to withdraw; as they did with Russia? ADP will leave abruptly and there will be nobody to manage our four international airports. Does that make sense to anybody sane?  And, to aid foreigners, who should not be bidding, to circumvent due process, goes beyond our run of the mill dishonest practices. This is almost treasonable.

Meanwhile, information at my disposal indicates that only the MMIA might be offered to foreigners; and some highly-placed Nigerians have acquired shares in the foreign bidders favoured for MMIA. That is another development being investigated. Could ADP be one of those?

Another prediction coming true  

Prophecy is a gift; nobody can fake it or buy it. I made a prediction earlier this year, at a gathering of young Nigerians, where we were discussing airport concessions. I told the young men and one young lady present that unless the Buhari administration is prepared to hand the airports over to Nigerians, then this government will not be the one to do the concession. Two of those present asked me why I could be so sure. I declined to reveal why at the time. Now I can.  

CTDHR only beat another group to the punch. They are almost ready to also proceed to litigation for different reasons. As it is, the Buhari administration has lost the chance to concession any airport.  Even if the CTDHR case is dismissed in the lower court, the case will go all the way to the Supreme Court. And, if that fails, the next case will start. Sirika should start writing his handing over notes. He will not have Nigeria Air or Airport Concession to claim as accomplishments any more.

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