From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika has disclosed that Nigerian airlines are owing federal agencies to the tune of N37 billion.

He said while Arik owes about N13 or N14 billion, Bi-Courtney is owing the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) about N14 billion, adding that for the past 13 years since it began operations, it has not remitted a single dime to them as stipulated in the agreement.

Sirika, who was the guest at this week’s ministerial press briefing organised by the Presidential Communication Team at the presidential villa, Abuja, said the debt was owed to agencies including the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) among others.

According to him, the Government had been cautious in demanding the payment mindful of how the media and the Nigerian public might react.

The minister, however, vowed that the Government would go after the airlines to make sure that they pay what they owe.

Sirika, who addressed the controversy over the disbursement of the N5 billion COVID-19 palliatives to aviation stakeholders, said the point was made that airlines owing aviation parastatals should not benefit.

‘In fact, the service providers in our system, FAAN, NAMA, said oh these guys are owing us, we should take the money from the money being given as palliatives. We said no but the intent of President Buhari is to ensure that he cushion the effect on businesses. Let us find a way of surviving, and let them take the money. So we would have taken the money and left them with nothing and we stay with nothing,’ he explained.

‘So, this brings to the question on the money owed the parastatals. It is about N37 billion that they are owing, especially, Arik, the culprit. I know they’re owing us about, N13, N14 billion.

‘If you’re owing Government, you are owing FAAN, Bi-Courtney is owing about N14 billion as at the last count. It has not paid a single dime since the time he started to run the terminal building. And we have not ceased giving him, electricity, water, fire cover, and so on and so forth. He hasn’t paid a dime for 13 years.

‘And if we go to shut his doors, media, of course, and Nigerian people will say we’re killing businesses but he is killing our services too because we have to have that money to provide for that toilet that you’re looking in Lagos airport. Most of these are living by their IGRs and so, we need the money but we will go after the money.’

Recalling how Bi-Courtney obtained the contract to build Lagos Terminal, he explained: ‘They built it not in the original location that we gave. They moved to another location. They also annexed what is not part of the agreement, like the car park and the school and so on and start to build a hotel, which is not part of the agreement. But that’s another issue.

‘So, they produced a terminal. But when you produce a terminal, you should be paying the agreed money back to the Government over time to a point where you will return the terminal building. In this case, it was supposed to be 12 years because he didn’t do anything ab initio initially. After two years of doing nothing, he now quickly built and when already 2, 3, 4 years has gone from 12 years.

‘He went for a review. Mind you, there is no ICRC (Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission). So, there is no regulator. He went to the Government to review it from 12 years to 15 years to 20 years to 25 years to 30 years to 33 years. And we met it that way.

‘And over that 13 years, he has not paid FAAN or any agency as a single dime for operating that terminal till today.

‘So, we ought to be paying so the other 25 years we would have made money out of it. He would have made his own money and you hand over the building back to us.

‘Well, I have to go into the books to know the numbers that were agreed. So, it happened like that because there is no institutional framework. There is no legal framework to deliver concession. Today in Nigeria, there is ICRC that will guide this concession and we will make money from day one. Okay.

‘The BPE is selling of Government properties. But the concession is that of the ICRC which is established by law, and we’re using ICRC to do our own.

‘So, yes I said, he has not paid a dime to us and is still there and we are providing electricity to him. We are providing security to him. We are providing fire cover to him, and so on so forth. And we’re providing our own runway for him to land. We are also providing our own apron because is our space, our land. He is not paying a dime yet.’

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On how the Government will deal with the situation, he stated: ‘Yes. Well, we’re resolving it and we’re talking with Bi-Courtney. We will ensure that we recover people’s money and also recover the property and put it to use in accordance with the law of the land.’

The minister also gave the reason for the frequent collapse of airlines in the country, noting that it is because of poor management capacity.

He said the Federal Government has therefore decided to establish an Aviation University for the development of all-round capacity in the sector.

Sirika added that a small team is already working on the outline of the university, which he said, will be run half online and half full time.

He also revealed that the ministry has released a total of 67 final aviation accident reports covering the period of 2007 – 2016 in the Government’s bid to ensure that the causes of previous airline accidents are known.

On the national carrier, the minister reiterated Nigeria will begin the operation of a new national air carrier in the first quarter of 2022.

Sirika said contrary to insinuations that the project has been abandoned, the Government only took steps to review the take-off plans in order not to repeat the same mistakes by the defunct Nigerian Airways.

‘I’m happy to say, we discussed with the high and mighty. We discussed with Boeing, with Airbus, we have reached some agreements. We discussed with airlines like Qatar and many other airlines. We will have this timeline in 2022 by the grace of God. And we’ll start with the domestic, you know, escalating into international. And we are partnering with many in the airline industry focused on either weight capacity and high capacity to be produced by either Boeing or Airbus.

‘We believe that this is the best thing for Nigerian and for Nigerians and for sure, the market is there.’

On airport concession, he said: ‘We have developed a business case and we’ve received a certificate from ICS. We’re going to use that now to develop the full business case to which Federal Executive Council will approve, and then we go to market. So the condition of the airport is topical and it’s the way to go. We all know what Legos is like. Lagos airport was designed in 1979 to look after two million passengers per annum. Today Legos is doing 8 million passengers.’

Giving further insights into the suspension of Emirates Operation in Nigeria, Sirika said the Government came to the resolution because the company was being biased in its approach to dealing with Nigerian travellers.

He said there is no timeline opening up of travel with Dubai. His reason for the spat is that Nigeria feels Dubia was being ‘discriminatory against our country and it is not acceptable.’

According to him, Dubai demands that Nigerians cannot fly to UAE except through Emirates airline and if they choose to do so through other airlines like Ethiopia, Qatar, Turkish or other airlines, they must remain in the country of that airline for two weeks if they are Nigerians before they continue to Dubai. Nigeria sees this as discriminatory and will not allow that to stand.

He said with the 200 million travelling population from Nigeria, and the huge foreign exchange from travellers, ‘we cannot afford to be hoodwinked to their own terms and conditions.’

Sirika further disclosed that the Government is in the process of developing a policy to register flying of drones in Nigeria in order to protect the airspace from external incursion.

He said the regulations being proposed would forbid individuals and organisations from operating drones without approval by the NCAA, which is the apex aviation regulatory authority.

Speaking on the achievements of the Aviation ministry under the current dispensation, the minister said these included seven standardised training packages developed with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), construction of Boeing 737 Simulator building, supply and installation of Boeing 737NG full-flight simulator, supply and installation of THALES DVOR/DME and Instrument Landing Systems for flight training, automated fire/smoke aircraft training simulator among others.

While noting the completion of work in different airports across the country, he said five airports have already been fitted with Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) to enable aircraft to land in poor conditions, noting that plans are on to extend it to a total of 15 airports in all.

He said Nigeria has also acquired the capacity to download cockpit recorder content for accident investigation, a facility, which he said is the 3rd best in the world.

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