The recent disclosure by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the plan to concession the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, and Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, is highly welcome.
The plan, which Osinbajo disclosed at the fifth edition of the presidential quarterly business forum in Abuja, entails that private companies and investors would be involved in the running of the two airports.
In 2016, the Federal Government had shown interest in concessioning the Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano airports to enhance their capacity and operational efficiency.
However, labour unions in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) have vehemently opposed the move and stressed their lack of trust and confidence in the process. They also vowed to stop the planned concession of the affected airports. Not even the assurance by the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, of due process could persuade them to jettison their opposition. Now that the government has approved the concession of these airports, we enjoin that the process must be fair and transparent. It must be different from the previous one that is still a subject of litigation.
The concession of the two airports is part of the reforms planned for the aviation industry, which may witness further concession of more airports and the return of our national airline or flag carrier. The fact that some of the details of the road map are not clear, more than two years into the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, is understandable.
But all things considered, the plan to concession the airports may be the right way to go. Given government’s depleting revenues, and the fact that aviation is a very capital-intensive business, concessioning remains the best option of keeping the aviation industry on track. All those opposing the plan should think twice and allow the government to revamp the sector without further delay. Government has, through the minister of state for aviation, promised to ensure a fair deal in the exercise. It should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Our airports are presently not among the best in the world. They are in need of proper upgrades and maintenance. Government cannot provide the resources to do this alone. So, the private sector and indeed foreign partners must come in. Our hope is that the exercise will be done quickly and seamlessly.
We advise that the government must be honest in the process. We say this because the tendency of the government to renege on agreements coupled with lack of political will to see things through, has come to hurt a number of previous deals. Therefore, extra care must be taken this time around to see that all the details of the plan are carefully stated.
They should be fair and implementable. All the relevant stakeholders, especially the aviation unions, must be carried along. The trade unions may be prone to protect their narrow and vested interests, but it is the duty of those in charge of the new plan to show them the bigger picture and how it can be a win-win situation for all the parties involved.
The exercise usually involves painstaking negotiations and willingness to listen to all parties. Assurances must be given on jobs and emoluments. Where there would be job losses, viable alternatives must be discussed and provided, where possible. At the end of the day, transparency in the entire process would be key. Government, in embarking on this exercise, must be mindful of the interests of those in the sector and the success and sustainability of the project.
We strongly believe that the new measures must take us away from being a mere aviation point to an aviation destination of choice that will be beneficial to our economy.