Scores of passengers were stranded across Nigeria’s airports on Thursday as Arik Air, which controls over 35 percent of domestic market share, could not airlift their passengers due to disruption of their operations by the unions over alleged N12.5 billion debt to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
The unions, namely: National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), as early as 6.30 am, sang solidarity songs and carried placards with various inscriptions such as, Arik pay your debt, enough is enough, Arik Air Must pay its debt to FAAN for peace to reign, Arik Pay Your 12.5billion Debt! FAAN can no longer pay salaries, pension, staff claims due to your debt!! Debtors pay all you owe FAAN now!!! Arik if you can’t pay don’t fly!!!, among others
The union members stated that they decided to shutdown the airline after all the negotiation between the airline and FAAN authority.
The negotiations, they said had been ongoing over the years.
Scores of passengers, who had planned to travel with Arik Air, were seen stranded and moving helter skelter to catch up with other airlines in order not to miss their appointments.
Workers of the airline were prevented by the unions from gaining access to their duty posts thereby disrupting the day’s operations.
But Ola Banji, Aik Air spokesman said the claims by the unions cannot yet be substantiated.
“The action by the workers’ union is connected with the long-standing and unsubstantiated claim by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) of spurious indebtedness of the airline to the agency which is now before a Federal High Court in Lagos at the instance of FAAN.
“For several months, the management of Arik Air and FAAN have been meeting to reconcile payment accounts between the two institutions. The reconciliation process is still ongoing until the latest actions by the union.
He said ‘this is not the first time that FAAN workers’ union will be taking the laws into their hands by disrupting operations of Arik Air’.
According to him, ‘The current situation is deeply out of control of Arik Air and the management of the airline has been compelled to suspend all domestic operations for today. This will remain in force until such a time the unfortunate situation is resolved.
“Arik Air sincerely apologise for the inconveniences the FAAN workers’ union action may have caused its esteemed passengers. We live to serve the needs of the people of the great nation Nigeria.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with FAAN and other aviation agencies to resolve the impasse and return to our core purpose of providing essential world class services to the people of Nigeria”, he said.
However, Benjamin Okewu, ATSSSAN president and Olayinka Abioye, secretary general of NUATE, both explained that today’s action was just withdrawal of services being rendered by FAAN from from the airline, adding that rather than the airline to reconcile its accounts, it resorted to court.
They said the action will continue until the airline pays up.