By Olu Ayela
FAAN can without stress pay for the new phase of the expansion of the terminal building at the international airports with low interest rate of two percent over twenty two years.
In order to ensure continuity, the contractors should be allowed to manage and operate the terminals according to well laid out regulations for a period to be specified and terms agreed upon before they are eventually transferred to FAAN. This will help FAAN to continue to be profitable and viable and resist the onslaught of those who want to tear the agency to pieces so they can take it as their own share of the political patronage system in Nigeria.
We are all too aware of the recent concession attempt with Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) out of which we cannot make head or tail and locked both partners into a spate of litigations with outcomes that were hardly respected by the government that originally endorsed and approved the concession. The concession is riddled with so much controversy and seems to carry a mark of an underhand initiative. Rather than serve as a model for what concessioning should be, the rising trend of disagreement between the government and BASL has become the reason to be distrustful of the concession campaign.
Can this be the model to rely on in a country where transparency, public participation and accountability in the governance process are totally disregarded? But, we should also not be unmindful of the challenges of giving full ownership or private majority ownership of airport facilities to private companies. The act of concession does not serve the public good as it will lead to monopolistic pricing, poor airport services and restricted operations, which may compromise the objectives of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Many of the private operators all around the world only concentrate their attention on terminal buildings. They hardly contribute to the maintenance of the airports’ most critical safety infrastructure, which includes the runway, taxiway, apron, navigational aids, airport ground lighting system, fire and safety service, airport perimeter fencing and the general maintenance of airside. For them, it is the bottomline and what would keep services alive to bring more money. Concession may be the way to make huge money roll into the coffers of the concessionaire but current experiences from Africa, Europe and America show that concession carries more baggage than the nations actually bargained for in the years after the concessions.
They cannot wait for the years to roll by as security worries and spending has far outstripped the fear of mismanagement of airport facilities. There is too much at stake to capitulate so easily to the sweet talk of concessioning. There should be security considerations for the nation’s air borders. In these days of the rising specter of global terrorism, giving up airspace in order to increase profit is something that should hardly be considered. The entire security of the nation can be compromised if the airports are left in private hands. Those in favour of concession will call for measures to beef up security at the airports but that alone will not be sufficient to stem the possibility of compromising security operations at the airports. The spate of attacks at airports around the world has called for increased spending which has not solved the problem.
For a country that is not willing to spend on the development of infrastructure, once the airports are concessioned, there will be no willingness to spend on security upgrade. Nigeria should, therefore, brace herself for the free inflow of drugs, fake currencies, a whole cache of dangerous goods as well as arms and ammunition in a nation already saturated with small arms and explosives. It is noteworthy that FAAN has been in the business of airport management and operation for over four decades since 1976. Forty years of that magnitude of experience cannot be thrown away with just an agreement that will put the fate of all its workers in jeopardy. The opposition to concessioning is not the fear of change but the dread of being left up in the creek without a paddle.
Those who want to manage airports should invest in airlines as the nation can do with more cargo and passenger aircraft. The concession of the four airports will not be the solution to the recession in Nigeria if that is one of the reasons for the cry for concession. Rather than sell, Nigeria should think of a massive investment in the aviation sector. Nigeria should raise confidence in the sector by increasing investment. This is not even thinking outside the box but a simple logical process that should be the best process for the nation. Why would a government that does not have a national carrier have a fleet of aircraft that is large enough to begin the initial phase of floating an airline?
Instead of selling the two jets that have been advertised for sale, the government should ask for nations and organizations with proven track records in aviation and sufficient competencies in airline operations to enter into partnership agreement and establish a new national carrier. Nigeria has the population for the airline to be viable. If it is operated as change demands with good corporate governance, transparency and complete removal of government interference it will definitely fly and it will be a new dawn for Nigeria. For another way to reduce the tension that is building up from this call to concession the airports, the government should call the unions and hold a discussion on the way forward. There can also be a committee of professionals in the aviation industry to give government a practical and workable blueprint on the future of aviation and airports in Nigeria. There are many people we can assemble to give dispassionate assessment of the current and future trends of the business that will pay government, the union and Nigerians.
The list should include people like Chris Aligbe, Harold Demuren, Abdulyekeen Umar, Engineer Mohammed Sadiq, Engineer Saleh Dunoma and many others who can give this nation the true picture of what is best for Nigeria.. It is not impossible that those who may queue up for the two presidential jets might be the same Nigerians that have stashed money away and are looking for legitimate ways of spending it.
They can go through proxies and for a system that is not very careful about due diligence, the proverbial camel can pass through the eye of the needle in this transaction as the nation is in haste to offload the jets and bring in quick cash and who says there are ready buyers at this time. The president should know that politicians do not have permanent friends but interests. Those who shouted “hosanna” for ex-president Jonathan Goodluck on this initiative few months ago are those crying, “crucify him” today. In the next few years it may be the turn of President Muhammadu Buhari. The president may mean well but those given the role of seeing the process through may have a different agenda.
Ayela writes from Lagos.