(Sundiata Post) – The Federal Government on Wednesday said it is not reversing its concluded plans to concession Nigerian airports, beginning with Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt.
Government said the decision was taken because it can no longer sustain the funding of the 22 airports across the country, assuring that the process will be transparently done and the aviation workers who fear massive job losses will be fully carried along.
Hadi Sirika, Minister of State for Aviation, revealed this in reaction to resistance by workers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) under the aegis of the Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) to government’s plans to concession the Lagos and Abuja Airports.
Government had two weeks back, approved the concessioning of the nation’s four major airports, begining with the Lagos and Abuja.
Speaking after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Sirika said the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, for instance, was originally built to handle 200,000 travelers per annum but that today, it is serving about eight million per annum, which the government can no longer handle, since it does not have the resources to upgrade the facilities.
“You will agree with me that this is not news, they have done so in the past. We are a democratic government and we recognise that it is their right to protests and what they are protesting is whether there will be job losses and labour issues. We have been very consistent and we have been engaging them. This time it will be very very different.
“At a time the concessioning of some government assets started, we were not knowledgeable in what concession entails but today, we have the knowledge and it will be transparently done, with active participation of workers in both the delivery and the steering committees, to drive this process,” Sirika said, speaking on the protests opposing concessioning of airports.
He said the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) will on Friday, put up a portal where all matters of concession will be available for anyone to see.
“It is an extra effort by this government to be so transparent in dealing with this type of situation. When it is transparently done, labour issues will be addressed within the process, you will agree with me that this is the best way to go.
“I had talked about concession, as against the outright sale that was tried in by past governments. I read on the social media that I had stolen N635 million but in the body of the story, they said I had budgeted to spend it during concession.”
The minister said he has been meeting with the agitating workers but that the policy of government is that it cannot fund aviation infrastructure today, through public budgets.
“The money is not there. We intend to get the private sector to come and put in their money.
Sirika further stated that, “the Murtala Muhammed Airport was built to cater for 200,000 people per annum, but today, it is doing eight million. The toilets and lifts in the airport were meant to serve 200,000 people per annum but now they are serving eight million per annum. There is no single addition on that airport and we are growing as a people.
“At the time it was built, we were 60 million people today we are 173 million. And we cannot continue to let the airport be like that and we do not have the money to invest and develop this airport.
“In our opinion as a government and the policy has been done that it will go through concession, to give to some individuals who will build, operate, maintain, sustain, make money and government will also make money in the process and it will return to government after a number of years, between 20 to 25 years. This will be transparently done, this is the catch phrase, so we are proceeding.”
He disclosed that the Buhari administration, on assumption of office, resolved to concession all the airports, as the only way to upgrade and develop airport facilities in the country, considering government’s poor financial status.
He further disclosed that Buhari had approved the concessioning of all Nigerian airports two months after the administration assumed office.
He said he had written to President Buhari on the roadmap, and one of them is to concession all Nigerian airports.
“Mr. President gave the approval to concession all Nigerian airports but to start with the big four – Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. And that approval was taken to council and it also approved Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, to start with. The rest will follow in due course.
“On where we are today, as regards concessioning, because of the procurement process and because of the Act establishing ICRC, we have come to the stage where we have appointed a transaction adviser, they were appointed and I briefed you here in this hall. They are to drive this process on concessioning.
“We have commissioned them, we have given them part payment. They are to commence what is called the Outline Business Case, which they will bring and we will take to council after which there will be a full business case and then we will procure.
“So Abuja and Lagos are part of the big four that will be concessioned in this first phase.”
Sirika also told State House Correspondents that President Buhari has approved a N45 billion severance package for workers of the liquidated Nigeria Airways.
The affected workers had on Wednesday in Lagos, protested the Federal Government’s failure to pay their severance benefits, running into N78 billion.
The protesters said they intended to draw government’s attention to their plight, as many of them had died and others became homeless after the government liquidated the airline in 2003.
Speaking on the matter, Sirika blamed past governments for liquidating Nigeria Airways without tending to the issues of the entitlements of the workers who are now struggling to get paid.
“This government, when it came on board, decided to take it seriously and I am happy to announce that Mr. President has approved N45 billion which has been confirmed to be the entitlements of these workers and the Ministry of Finance has been instructed to pay,” he stressed.
He said the Ministry of Finance wrote to him last week that they have received instructions to pay these workers and therefore they are going about setting up all the modalities to pay.
“It will be paid by ministry of Finance through a process and that process will commence very soon.
“So I’m very glad to say that this is also what this government has done. It took a long time for the workers of Nigeria Airways to be attended to and we thank them for their patience. Unfortunately, we lost many of them, many of whom I have known personally. So this will soon be dealt with”.
The Minister also disclosed that FEC meeting approved the hosting of the International World Aviation Forum, scheduled for Abuja for the 20th of November this year, where over 40 aviation ministers around the world are expected.
This is the first time Nigeria will be hosting such an event, Sirika said, adding that he also briefed the council on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) certified Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, 38 years after it commenced flight operations, a process which began since 2006. (BusinessDay)