Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah
By Chinedu Eze
As the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, unveils the newly-rebuilt General Aviation Terminal (GAT) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos Monday, industry experts have excoriated the decision of the Federal Government to repudiate the concession agreement it reached with Bi-Courtney Limited over the building, management and operation of all domestic services at the airport.
In the agreement signed between Bi-Courtney and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in 2004, it was agreed that the firm should build a new domestic terminal and that no other domestic terminal should be built at the airport and that all scheduled domestic operations should emanate from the new facility, which started operation in May 2007.
By rebuilding and unveiling the GAT for service, government has dishonoured that agreement just as it had earlier defied the condition that all domestic operations must emanate from the MMA2 as other airlines have been using the GAT to run their scheduled domestic services.
The assistant secretary general of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mohammed Tukur, told THISDAY at the weekend in Lagos that if FAAN was unveiling the GAT for airlines to operate scheduled flight services, it would be wrong because government had already conceded to Bi-Courtney the right for its terminal to operate all scheduled domestic airline services.
“But there won’t be any problem if the GAT as the name implied would be used for charter operations and other services besides scheduled flight services.
“The controversy ignited by the failure of government to honour its agreement will not cease if the GAT is used for scheduled flight services. Government should be able to uphold its agreement with the private sector; not when the company had secured loans from banks and built the terminal you decide to dishonour the agreement,” he said.
But the Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister of Aviation, Joe Obi, said in a statement that GAT was not part of the areas ceded to Bi-Courtney Limited in the agreement.
“To be sure, the area where GAT is located has never been part of the area concessioned to Bi-Courtney Ltd. The agreement with Bi-courtney has a survey plan clearly marked in square metres and the area of the GAT was never contemplated to be part of the area leased to Bi-Courtney,” Obi said.
On government’s failure to obey court orders and judgments to handover GAT to Bi-Courtney, including the revenues that accrued therein since MMA2 became operational, Tukur urged government to honour court judgments and court orders because any government that fails to obey the rule of law “will not last in the long run.”
Former commandant Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said government should have allowed the private sector to develop airport infrastructure and use its funds to provide strategic, critical security structures at the airports.
“This is financial recklessness for the government to use public money to build passenger terminal at MMIA, when there are critical safety and security issues begging for government attention like the domestic runway which was completed six years ago without runway and approach lights; like the insufficient lightings at the airport taxiways and the neglect of enhanced security and secondary perimeter fencing of the runways.”
Chairman of Abuja Gateway Consortium, Kenneth Adoke, said that the Federal Government was fond of not keeping its own side of agreements.
“I am aware that the agreement was documented properly, but as usual government is not keeping its own side of the agreement. The agreement might have been done in error, but once signed government must have to keep to the tenets of the agreement.”
Also, head of research and travel, Zenith Travel Limited, Olu Fidel Ohunayo told THISDAY that while congratulating the government for rebuilding the GAT, “but we need to look forward on sustainability which can only b achieved in a PPP (public, private partnership) environment. Sadly, looking backwards almost all such arrangements were messed by the shoddy packaging from government’s side and their inability to respect same. It will hurt our airports and has almost wiped out our domestic airlines. Investors are fleeing because we use brute force to reverse agreement even after disregarding court orders.”
On government’s ignoring court orders and judgements, Obi said, “Regarding allegations that there are subsisting court orders restraining anybody, including FAAN which is the landlord of all federal airports in Nigeria from further development of the GAT, we need to stress that the cases are still ongoing. In fact, our case is currently before the Supreme Court, challenging the orders being referred to mainly, but not limited to the fact that in several of these cases, FAAN, as a principal interested party was never fully represented.
He said that most of the cases and attempts at arbitration were conducted without the full incorporation and participation of FAAN. Those behind Bi-Courtney, relying on their privileged positions and closeness to the corridors of power at the time conspired to leave out FAAN in most of the adjudication and arbitration processes.
Part of the agreement FAAN signed with Bi Courtney stated, “The Guarantor (FAAN) guarantees and assures that it will not build any new domestic terminal in Lagos State and that no existing domestic terminal will be materially improved throughout the Concession Period that would compete with the Concessionaire for the same passenger tariff.”