By Sade Williams
Experts in aviation and other fields on Friday, discussed the pros and cons of concessioning Nigeria’s airports, cautioning government to learn from the success of such options in developed countries and do away with what necessitated failure of the option in Nigeria in the past.
Notable among the speakers at a stakeholders’ conference on privatisation/concession of Nigeria’s airports, organised by CheckinNigeria, was Harold Demuren, former director general of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) who insisted that if all existing litigations on some concessions, Public Private Partnership or Build, Operate, Transfer in the country were not fully addressed and reviewed, the planned one will not work.
According to him, the concession plan is a good one but agreements and pacts must be honoured in both existing and future concessions.
“When government does not honour agreements, it destroys the sector and everything it has made. The concession plan is great but we can’t continue to operate by cancelling agreements all the time, in fact, all existing issues, litigations or agreements should be reviewed before we talk about another one”, he said.
Demuren, who expressed unhappiness over the way the Virgin group left Nigeria after the Virgin Nigeria deal flopped, noted that if a new concession agreement must be entered into, ‘there must be good corporate governance and transparency’, adding that ‘undue political interference must stop’.
He noted that government must desist from setting up committees whose members do not know each other, adding that such and other issues were the bane of former concessions.
He noted further that in all the dealings, the unions must be carried along while dealing transparently with all.
However, he is of the opinion that that the plan may be difficult to achieve as the Chinese was still building four terminals under a BOT, adding that the same terminals that have not been completed, operated and transfered cannot be concessioned.
He also asked who would be responsible for critical areas like power supply, aviation security, FAAN indebtedness, adding that if the airports concessioned for instance, without adreesing the issue of debts, ‘there will be litigation’.
But he said: the other airports, apart from the four viable ones have State governments, Federal government should work with them to keep them running’.
Also speaking, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, chairman, senate committee on privatisation, who noted that it has become an emergency for government to save the aviation sector, noted that ‘all the countries thriving aviation sectors are those ones that have privatised or concesioned their airports’, adding that ‘government does not have the ability to put money into thee terminals any longer’
“The bureaucracy of civil service is not good for the airports, Nigeria needs to concession the airports into experienced hands for efficiency and more revenue, effective privatisation or concession will yield more jobs.
“We are also determined formulate any laws that will facilate and enhance concession/privatisation such that any government will not just come and cancel an existing work with the wave of the hand because we have seen that privatisation or concession in jeorpadised anytime there is a change in government, we cannot make progress that way.
“We will ensure that Nigeria has workable laws for the purpose of ensuring transparency in privatisation”, he said.
Bruce lamented that ‘Nigeria lacks the ability to separate critical sectors like aviation and power from politics’, adding Ghana has now become the choice of all and gradually becoming the hub of West Africa because it has been able to separate its aviation from politics.
“The alarming rate at which airlines are failing and others leaving Nigeria is worrisome, government needs to come to the aid of the airlines through granting of soft loans, reduced taxes, government officials should patronise domestic airlines instead of foreign ones”, he added.
On his own part, Noggie Meggison, chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), said, ‘the way to go if aviation must contribute to GDP is concession, for domestic airlines to make profit, for navigational facilities to work efficiently, there must be concession, once the airports start running effectively, Nigeria will become an attractive hub’.
He however asked government to make public which model among PPP, JV or BOT, adding that the public is still not clear with which direction government was going.
“How many airports are we concessioning, for how many years, what annual fees are to be paid to government but I I believe Nigeria needs airports of standards to take its rightful place as hub of south/west Africa”, he added.