By Chinedu Eze
Human rights activist and Head of Agbakoba and Associates, Olisa Agbakoba, has said that foreign airlines enjoy preferential treatment in Nigeria, expressing concern that this tends to infringe on regulations that guide the operations in the country.
He also noted in a statement made available to THISDAY that the international carriers capitalise on loopholes created by Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) which their countries signed with the Federal Government.
“Many aviation analysts and stakeholders in the Aviation sector blame the audacity of foreign airlines to commit infractions on the preferential treatment they enjoy. The foreign operators have long capitalized on the loopholes created by the BASA (Bilateral Air Services Agreement) to gain economic power; this has led to an ability to challenge the authority or regulators.”
Agbakoba regretted that since the demise of Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), other Nigerian carriers play second fiddle on international routes, thus giving the foreign carriers the opportunity to dominate international air transport from Nigeria.
“Since the death of Nigeria Airways, Nigerian operators play second fiddle in the global airline business. A Central Bank of Nigeria of Nigeria (CBN) report showed that all the foreign airlines operate more than 200 weekly flights into Nigeria with Arik playing a nominal role. The major international airlines repatriated over N200 billion in one year.”
Agbakoba said that to stem this unfavourable situation, there was the need to introduce Aviation Cabotage, which will make it compulsory for Nigerians and others traveling on government expense to patronise Nigerian airlines, except when Nigerian carriers or their partners are not traveling to that destination.
“There is need to introduce Aviation Cabotage; a framework that will trap and keep these resource flights without necessarily hampering Nigeria's international aviation obligations. It is therefore recommended that a National Aviation Reform project should incorporate wide range policies including development of regulations, legal frameworks and infrastructures.”
He said that one of the required legal framework is the FLY NIGERIA BILL similar to (FLY AMERICA Regulation) which when passed would require Federal employees, dependents, consultants, contractors, grantees, and other persons performing Nigeria government financed air travel to travel Nigeria carriers.
The Fly Nigeria Act, he said, would make it mandatory for Federal Government employees, consultants, contractors, and other public officers embarking on a government sponsored trip to use a Nigerian registered airline when one is available on that route.
This, he said, would lead to expansion of airline operations which in turn would create jobs as more personnel would need to be employed.
He remarked that support for Aviation Cabotage would increase airlines revenue, encourage code share and interlining operations between Nigeria registered and foreign airlines.
It will also increase contribution to the Gross Domestic Product of Nigeria; increase in adequate international traffic which would lead to an increase in revenue which in turn would lead to an expansion in airplane fleets as well as a general modernization of the industry, he said.
Agbakoba added that this would also attract partners for abroad routes expansion programme, observing that this would encourage aviation manpower development through retention of human resources who are being poached from Nigeria with higher salary offers by the Middle East and Europe.
He said that this would necessitate infrastructural development and improvement to meet operating requirements.
Fly Nigeria Act, the eminent lawyer observed would protect the local aviation market, remarking that such protection may come in the form of restriction of the frequency of flights allocated to foreign carriers, multiple entry Points etc.
On fare disparity by foreign carriers, he said that the recent ultimatum given to British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and all international airlines operating in the country to dismantle the regional fare imbalance between what Nigerian passengers pay for international flights and their counterparts in the West African sub-region or face a ban from operating in Nigeria, was a step in the right direction.
“While we agree with the Minister of Aviation that Nigerian passengers do not deserve this kind of exploitation and commend the actions of the Federal Government, we encourage the Nigerian Government to take a further step and introduce a policy dissuading Nigerians from flying these international airlines through the passage of The Fly Nigeria Bill. The Fly Nigeria Bill will ensure that all Federal employees and their dependents, consultants, contractors, grantees, and others performing government financed foreign air travel by Nigerian air carriers. A lot of the passengers who fly these international airlines fall into this category.”
He stressed that an immediate passage of the Fly Nigeria Bill will utilise market forces to trap and keep these resource flights within Nigerian airlines without necessarily hampering Nigeria’s international aviation obligations in the long run.