The move by the Federal Government to concession the terminals of four Nigerian international airports located in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt, as part of its developmental plan, is set to cause labour restiveness in the sector. Already, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and some of the aviation unions have vowed to resist it. As a warning, the aviation workers shut the offices of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt on August 31, 2020.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had, in 2018, at a stakeholders forum, unveiled the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to transform the aviation sector through the concession of the four airports considered viable. According to the minister, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, Malam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), would serve as the pilot phase, while the remaining 18 would follow suit in the nearest future. According to him, the concession is a deliberate policy towards bridging infrastructural deficit in the nation’s airports.
While some experts and stakeholders have hailed the plan as a bold move towards saving cost by government in the face of the current economic adversity, others who doubt the feasibility of the plan have called for restraint and due diligence before embarking on the exercise. On the face value, the concession would increase the operational efficiency and profitability of the airports and stimulate growth in the non-oil sector of the economy. However, it should be pointed out that Nigeria had experimented with the idea of privatisation with the concession of the MMIA 2 terminal to Bicourtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo more than a decade ago. The concession became a subject of controversy and litigation. The new attempt to concession airports without addressing the lingering issues emanating from the past exercise is not tidy.
We, therefore, sue for caution and urge the Federal Government to do its homework well before embarking on it. While we note the determination of the government to go ahead with the plan, we urge it to ensure that the contentious issues trailing the exercise be resolved. The government should clearly communicate its plan to all the stakeholders, including aviation workers. It must also consider the pros and cons of the exercise before its implementation. The allegation by the President of National Union of Airport Employees (NUATE), Ahmed Yusuf, that the process so far is insincere and not transparent should not be ignored.
We believe that certain national assets such as the viable airports should be left out of any concession regardless of the presumed economic advantages. There is even no compelling need to concession the viable airports. We regret that only the four viable airports, which the government has invested so much money in recent times, are slated for the exercise. With zero revenue being recorded following the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic and recent flight restrictions, the plan is ill-timed.
Although, the statistics on the revenue and expenditure of the 20 federal airports and FAAN headquarters in the last three years showed huge revenue shortfall and deficits across board, which may have compelled the government to embark on the plant, we are of the view that the concession of the viable airports will mean death to the remaining 18 airports which depend on them. Other vital issues like job losses that ought to be central in the plans for concessioning should not be overlooked. The argument that the concession will create more jobs is not convincing enough to aviation workers who have vehemently opposed the plan. The unions have stridently insisted that the plan is in bad faith and cannot ensure the overall development of our airports.
We urge the government to review the plan and consider going for Greenfield concession, where the concessionaire would acquire a land, build, operate, and transfer the airports to the government. This arrangement would create more jobs, during and after construction and drive competition in the sector.