The House of Representatives has asked its committees on aviation, human rights, and commerce to investigate the state of the Nigerian airports and the aviation sector.
The lawmakers also want to probe the activities of airline operators and their coordinating agencies.
This is sequel to a motion on the need to Investigate the poor performance and high charges by airline operators in Nigeria by Hon. Simon Karu.
The House is concerned that Nigerians have not enjoyed domestic air travel due to constant delays and cancellation of flights with impunity and change of airline departure time contrary to Regulations of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and in contravention of International Aviation Standards.
The lawmakers are worried that recently, the burden of domestic air travellers in Nigeria has been increased by a 120% in local airfares.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has stated that the sector has been the worst hit since the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country.
According to him, airlines have lost nearly N17 billion monthly since their operations were grounded, as part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
“We are in very difficult moments like everyone else. All of this started because someone travelled and unfortunately came back home with it and the consequence is what we’ve been going through.
“We are the worst hit, than any other sector. Some N17 billion monthly is being lost by the airlines, thanks to COVID-19,” the minister said during the Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja on Wednesday.
Speaking further, Sirika noted that the sector is highly regulated and very co-ordinated and has set standards that must be followed at all times, regardless, because it speaks to safety.
This, according to him, would mean that “we will not be able to open up after closing for several weeks and perhaps for some months”.
“There are safety issues and concerns. Those airplanes have been kept and when we are going to bring them back into service, we will have to ensure that they are airworthy and that they can make those flights safely,” he added.
“So also, for the flight crew, they have certain standards they must conform with. They have licencing issues which will fall due for recurrency to be done within this period, so what do you do with them.
“Certainly they won’t just pick up their bags and continue where they left. They must conform to those standards and ensure that they are safe to operate both in terms of their health and their proficiency to be able to conduct a very safe flight”.
The chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission,(ICPC) Ekpo Nta says as the world celebrates the United Nations (UN) Anti-Corruption Day, his commission will like to publicly deal with issues affecting corruption, starting with the aviation industry.
He said that his commission has looked at other sectors and presently the aviation sector is the sector in view by the ICPC.
Speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, Mr. Nta explained the reason why the ICPC is taking on the aviation sector, maintaining that “the airport is the first entry point when entering a country, adding that most people bribe the airport officials to prevent them from performing their legitimate duty.
He stated that there is a thin line between tips and bribe adding that most Nigerian’s are not bothered about the “level of corruption in the country especially at the airports”.
Mr. Nta noted that low level corruption becomes the internal perception “ that your country is corrupt”.
He called on Nigerians to help curb corruption is any way they can thereby calling the ICPC toll lines and any offender should be reported to the ICPC.
The Director, Commercial and Business Development, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Adeniyi Balogun, has said that the agency is working hard to improve and increase revenue generation.
He explained that in 2011, when the aviation team came on board, the contribution of aviation to the GDP was in the region of 109 billion Naira which translates to about 0.4% GDP.
“The aviation sector has also created jobs for about 59,000 as at late 2011,” he said.
Speaking on Channels Television Business Morning, Mr. Balogun said that his sector created a new business module aimed at running the aviation sector efficiently and ensuring they were self-sustaining all the parastatals within the aviation sector.
He added that the sector was able to make, as at 2011, 28 billion Naira and 30 billion Naira in 2012. “In December when we collated the figures, we made about 44 billion Naira.
He said that his sector was working on establishing a partnership with the private sector which was intertwined with the public sector. This, he said would help to develop the aviation sector further.
The Director General of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, (NAMA) Nnamdi Udo, on Saturday made an open call to operators of domestic airlines to commence late night flights as equipment to enable such operations are now available on request.
Speaking on Channels Television’s Saturday breakfast programme, Sunrise, Mr Anuforom said for “airlines who want to operate late … infrastructures are adequately available for (anytime) operation but they should notify us. It’s important Nigerians know this, so that nobody thinks what’s obtainable in New York is not available here.”
On Friday night, Enugu and Owerri had passengers up until 11pm, he added.
He admitted that most airports have “sunrise to sunset” operations but “today we have enough infrastructure for airlines to go in there (airports) anytime they want,” especially since traffic has increased as a result of the festive season.
Speaking about theloan obtained from China, Mr Udoh said it is being used to sustain the infrastructure which is existing as well as ensure total radar coverage, instrument landing system, air-field landing system in the aviation sector.
Backing up the Aviation Minister’s comments regarding the development in the sector, Director General of Nigerian Meteorological Agency, (NIMET) Mr Anthony Anuforum said that “everything we are doing is the implementation of the aviation master-plan.”
“We have acquired a wide range of infrastructure satellite image receivers, upper-air monitoring equipment and so on.”
According to the DG, six Doppler Radar Readers have been purchased while two have been installed and are operational in Abuja and Port Harcourt, the third and fourth are being installed in Yola and Maiduguri although there are security challenges.
“We have also procured wind shear alert systems” which are already in 8 airports and plans are underway to install in two more airports.
Upper air monitoring instrument have been increased to 8.
Thunderstorm detectors are available at up to 20 locations in the country, while satellite image receivers have also been acquired.
“These are the facilities we have and these are all part of what we are implementing to ensure safety.”
“Our services in air traffic control and surveillance is world class.”
The Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah has assured Nigerians that major changes would be seen in all airports and in the aviation sector come 2014. Top of the list of changes promised are a new era of ‘healthier airlines’ and better service delivery to the satisfaction of travellers.
“Some people would like you to believe it’s cosmetics. There’s nothing cosmetic about it. There’s nothing cosmetic about safety and security and so essentially what we did was to increase the current facilities we have by a 150 percent. For Lagos, we actually did 200 percent increase in the facility,” she said.
The minister who was a guest on Sunrise Saturday recounted some of the achievements made in the sector which critics have said are ‘cosmetic.’
The aviation sector in Nigeria has in the recent past been regarded as below standard and according to Oduah, “the death of Aviation sector started about 30 years ago. Airports which had been established for social value lacked the proper plan for sustainability hence they ‘died’ in no time.
“I believe Aviation came on board as a social platform and so everything social often is not sustained because the sustainability of the infrastructures which were not put in place,” she said.
“As much as aviation has a social content, aviation is about economics and commerce but evolved and enveloped around safety and security. Over the years we missed that point and when we missed it, the sustainability of those noble ideas, we lost it.”
Things have now changed as “the sector is now alive (literally); the sector has now come to life, because prior to this time what you had was a very dead sector, a sector where everything was obsolete (literally).”
The sector which now boasts of over 14.5 million passengers had been on the budget of the Federal Government and yet it decayed. Speaking on the programme, Oduah attributed this to the concentration on ‘welfare,’ “so the infrastructure maintenance upgrade were relegated to the background.”
She also talked about the “unprecedented” growth the sector has experienced recently and added that “no other country has that sort of growth.”
For the past two years we have been going on double digits, two years ago we were at 14.5 million, now we are approaching 20 million passengers.
“The growth can only be sustained and increased upon in commensurate increase and maintenance of those facilities, otherwise they would slip away. Facility capacity must be increased”
Furthermore, she disclosed that some of the works being done are yet to be visible as they are mostly in the back-end. Others are not ready and so may not be seen, for example wing E and D of the international airport in Lagos.
Increase In Efficiency
The Minister said that in due course, passengers should expect that “processing time (at the airport) is reduced to less than 15 minutes.
“You don’t have to stay on those long queues; you don’t have to be harassed as you go because the space has increased.
Service delivery will also be improved upon because “we went on massive training to ensure that improved infrastructure will be adequately manned by workers.”
As time goes on, you are going to see different facilities increased enough to be able to accommodate the increase in passengers that we are envisaging.
“We envisage in the next 12 months we should be able to do 40 million” as studies show that almost 65% of traveling adults and young adults in Nigeria use air transportation. “It’s the preferred mode of transportation.”
Commenting on complaints that air transportation is costly in Nigeria compared to other parts of the world, Stella Oduah said “I don’t think so.” The reason being that “air transportation is the most regulated sector in the world and so it’s not policy permissible for an airline to unilaterally decide the cost”
“You need to have the regulators’ approval and the regulator has to work in conformity with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) global standards.
“We fought the British Airways because the prices they were charging domestically were far much in excess to what they were charging in Ghana and in neighbouring countries and so we fought them.”
“We are still in court with them,” she disclosed.
Responding to claims that people have been buying private jets as a means of escaping the poor services rendered at the airports, she said “private jet is a lifestyle. Several things lead to one deciding to have that sort of lifestyle. Time saving could be one of them but often times, it’s not the main reason for that and that is why it’s a lifestyle.”
“For us it is business. It’s tagged as general aviation,” she said.
She went further to hint that the increase in the purchase of private jets is an indication of economic growth. “The growth of general aviation often is a reflection of economic growth in the nation. It means you have the emergence of wealthy men and women that have developed different lifestyles.”
On the lack of efficiency of the local airlines, she said a diagnostic report showed that “we have very high deficiency in terms of operations with the domestic airways, poor governance. We have majorly badly structured domestic airlines that work on the model of not having to pay.”
However, “a reformed, a refined and a very well-articulated, updated civil aviation policy which she said will be sent to the National Assembly in January for approval, will give the agency the leverage it needs to ensure that changes are made.
She outlined some other developments and changes which are in the pipes, including much ‘healthier’ airlines, which are much responsive and policy abiding, the introduction of Passengers Bill of Rights which gives the NCAA the authority to ensure that passenger’s rights are protected.
“The bill is at the advocacy stage which also sees that carriers understand the responsibility of their non-conformity to the bill of rights,” she said.
Activities at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu were temporarily grounded for few hours when a youth group under the aegis of Igbo Progressive Union stormed the airport on Saturday morning to protest against calls for the removal of Nigeria’s aviation minister, Stella Oduah.
While addressing newsmen during the protest, the leader of the group Emeka Agbo, said youths especially in the South East are prepared to do everything possible to protect Mrs Oduah.
The group argued that the aviation minister is innocent of the scandal against her as the purchase of the two armoured BMW vehicles the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) allegedly bought for her is in the best interest of the Aviation Sector.
According to the protesters, “some highly placed individuals especially her political detractors are the master minders of this evil seed as they are all out to tarnish the image and pedigree of the Minister.”
The protesters including young men and women carried placards with different inscriptions accusing some unnamed politicians of being behind the calls for the removal of the minister insisting that the intention of the cabal was to stop the minister from going ahead with her transformation agenda in the aviation sector.
There has been a public outcry against the purchase of the two vehicles which cost a total of N225 million. Hence, several groups and individuals have called for the Minister’s dismissal.
They argued that she has done so much in the Aviation Sector under the transformation agenda of President Goodluck and that she has affected so many lives during her tenure as the Aviation minister.
Also, the kinsmen of the embattled minister who were joined in the protest led by a George Nwabueze, traditional ruler from Ogbaru community, threw their weight behind the Aviation minister. They argued that the whole scenario is a political witch hunt by some people who are against the re-election of the President in 2015.
Meanwhile, a group under aegis of South East Progressive Assembly (SEPA) condemned the action of the protesters. And insisted that the aviation minister must resign honourably to avoid the wrath of tax payers of whom she used their money in purchasing the armoured bullet proof cars.
While addressing newsmen in Owerri the Imo state capital, the president of the South east progressive assembly Ebere Uzoukwa said the actions by the aviation minister showed that she’s not capable of running the affairs of the ministry and as such, she should resign and allow President Goodluck Jonathan to appoint capable hands from any other part of the country.
Although there has been calls from different quarters for the removal of the Aviation minister Stella Odua over the controversies trailing the purchase of two bullet proof cars for her by the Aviation Authority, NCAA, has insisted that purchase of the vehicle followed due process and the cars were part of the operational vehicles provided in the NCAA 2013 budget which is in line with NCAA condition of service.
The House of Representatives has mandated its committee on aviation to investigate the controversy surrounding the purchase of two exotic armoured vehicles by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) which are said to be for the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah.
This resolution followed a debate on a motion of urgent national importance by the minority whip Samson Osagie who brought up the matter during plenary.
The lawmaker said given the poverty in the land, it was unpatriotic for an agency of government to incur such expenditure for the comfort and safety of one public officer.
Members of the committee of aviation speaking during the debate said the committee had not approved that expenditure in the agency’s budget.
Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu reacted to media reports on the circumstances surrounding the procurement of two BMW 760 LI armoured series cars by the agency after the purchase of the armoured vehicles began generating so many reactions from groups and Nigerians alike.
The NCAA D.G. stated that the cars are operational vehicles used in the varied operations of the NCAA including transporting the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah and aviation-related foreign dignitaries.
He also said the purchase of the two cars which cost N255m followed due process and the NCAA remains focused on enforcing standards and promoting safety in line with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
A security expert, Max Gbanite on Tuesday said some wealthy individuals in Nigeria are sponsors and supports to the Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
This according to Mr Gbanite, who was a guest on Channels Television’s morning programme, Sunrise Daily, is not a new fact since the State Security Services have always alluded to it.
The security expert was speaking against the background of recent events in Borno State. The military Joint Task Force (JTF) had on Thursday announced the arrest of Shuaib Mohammed Bama in Maiduguri, the Borno capital, describing him as “a high profile Boko Haram Commander who has been on the list of wanted terrorists operating between Bama and Maiduguri.”
The SSS had linked the arrested Boko Haram Commander to “a serving senator’s house along Damboa Road, GRA Maiduguri.”
The Senator, who was later identified as Ahmed Zanna, representing Borno Central Senatorial district, denied the allegation that the Boko Haram member was arrested in his house saying although the suspect is his nephew; he was not arrested in his apartment.
He said the suspect was arrested in a house belonging to Mr Sheriff and that the former governor is scheming with security operatives to robe him in the saga in order to claim his seat in the senate.
The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has said despite the agitation of the aviation workers’ union, the automation of the airports in the country must go on.
FAAN Managing Director, George Uriese, who was a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, said with the automation of the airport, the body would be able to recover accurate charges on users of the airports.
Speaking on the finicial crises rocking the Nigerian aviation industry, an aviation expert, Mr Chris Aligbe, has declared that commercial banks in the country, see the aviation sector as every other business and therefore treat it as such due to their lack of competence in aviation.
This according to Mr Aligbe, who was a guest on Sunrise Daily, has led to the inability of the fiancial institutions to analyse proposals from the aviation sector, as he further allege that the banks also fail to engage aviation consultants to analyse or interpret the proposal as the case may be. This he argues has led to the faltering of the very essential sector of the Nigerian economy.
The aviation expert also noted that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has no responsibility for the aviation sector in any way as the apex bank has the sole responsibility of regulating the financial system of the country, this he argues is not in any way related to the aviation sector.
On the intervention fund provided for the sector by the CBN, Mr. Chris explained that the move by the CBN is of good intentions as it remains within the ambits of its primary duty but he recalled that most business relationship between the banks and the aviation sector doesn’t end well.
The Managing Director of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), George Uriesi on Friday said that Arik Air owes the authority over N7 billion.
Mr Uriesi, who was a guest on Channels Television’s programme, Sunrise Daily, said Arik Air’s debt resulted from the company’s refusal to the mandatory parking and landing charges.
“I have come to the conclusion that the business module of Arik is to operate and get by without paying its bills,” the FAAN boss said.
The airline company, while announcing the suspension of flight operations in Lagos on Thursday had said that said operations would not resume until FAAN and the Ministry of Aviation resolve the issue and reconcile the accounts, to settle the crisis arising from the debt issue.
Chris Ndulue, Arik Air’s Vice President had said the allegation that the airline was indebted to FAAN was fictitious and malicious, adding that the airline only had about N1.6 billion debts outstanding before the authority introduced the pay- as –you- go system of payment.
According to him, the airline did not owe N7.2 billion as claimed by FAAN.
Mr Uriesi however debunked the claims by the company saying that Arik Air’s statement was meant to deceive Nigerians.
“To my shock yesterday, they actually deceived Nigerians by saying that for the past 18 months they’ve been ‘paying as you go’, which is not true
“What happened 18 months ago was another way of rescuing ourselves from not getting paid because the passengers, if you fly you pay us a thousand naira for passenger service charge. The law says that money is on the ticket.
“But the airlines, particularly Arik were never remitting this money to FAAN. So we decided about 18 months ago to going back to what airports use to do in the 60s, printing special tickets for the passenger service charge to force the airline to buy upfront. If we allow it to be on the tickets, they will never remit the money to us. It is our money,” he said.