There are indications that the Nigerian aviation industry may be entering another round of crisis over the planned concession of four major airports in the country.
While the Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, insisted that there is no going back on the concession of Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt Airports, industry unions are saying they would resist every attempt by the government to implement the plan, saying plans are underway for a rally against the concession plan to be held in all the airports in the next two weeks.
Speaking with aviation journalists Tuesday night in Lagos, Sirika disclosed that work has reached an advanced stage on the concession of the four airports in the first phase while other airports across the country would follow suit in the second.
He stated that in an earlier meeting held with the leaderships of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), he informed them of the concession plan and that following much deliberation, they agreed with the government to concession the airports for improved service delivery.
Some of the union leaders at the meeting were the President of ATASSSAN, Comrade Benjamin Okewu; President of NAAPE, Engr. Isaac Balami; Ag. Secretary General of NUATE, Comrade Oalyinka Abioye; and the immediate past Secretary General of NUATE, Comrade Abdulkareem Motajo.
The Minister attributed the previous protest against the planned concessioning of the airports to lack of adequate information on the part of the unions.
“The unions that protested against the planned concession of the airports did so because of lack of information on their part,” he said. “The states of our airports are terrible and we need to make them better. Our airports are not ideal to attract passengers to them. Today, we are doing 15 million passengers per annum, but with the right infrastructure in place, we should be doing between 70 to 100 million passengers per annum.”
He stressed that the government could no longer put money into some of the public facilities, and that the only option is to concession the airports, with the aim of transforming them within 24 months for better service delivery and with more passengers.
“I have told the unions that there is no going back with the concession of the airports and they’ve agreed with me. We will concession them; God willing, we will concession our airports. Some people will call me to complain about the deplorable state of our airports, and yet, they are still the ones kicking against the concession of the airports. Aviation is a money spinner, but you must get it right. It’s a shame that we can’t maintain anything in Nigeria.”
A source close to NUATE has however contradicted the Minister, saying he never discussed concessioning of the airports with them during the meeting he alluded to. On the contrary, he said, the industry unions had written a joint letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, pointing out why the airports must not be concessioned yet by the government.
The source further stated that the only issue that was discussed with the minister was the plight of Aero Contractors, the domestic airline which seized flight operations last week.
“We discussed Aero Contractors and he only mentioned that the unions don’t understand the model of concessioning he was talking about and that’s why they are kicking against. He told us that what he wants to do is not privatisation or outright sale of the airport, but [that] the government wants to invite the private sector to invest in airport infrastructure.”