Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah
By Onwuka Nzeshi
The Senate Committee on Aviation Wednesday ordered Lufthansa Airlines to pay the sum of N2.37 billion to the Federal Government of Nigeria or face severe sanctions.
The committee warned that it might be compelled to direct the grounding of all Lufthansa aircraft in Nigeria to ensure that the airline obeyed the laws governing aviation sector in the country.
The committee has also directed the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, to ensure the recovery of the said sum being unpaid royalties owed the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) by the airline.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodinma, gave the directives after a marathon meeting with officials of the NCAA official and officials of Lufthansa Airlines in Abuja.
Others who attended the meeting were the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Aviation Matters, Captain Shehu Iyal, and Acting Director, Air Transport Management in the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. Musa Hassan.
Uzodinma expressed concern that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) upon which Lufthansa based its decision not to honour NCAA invoices was not signed.
Under the terms of the controversial agreement, Lufthansa was required to pay NCAA in kind and not in cash. The airline offered to employ and train Nigerians, as cabin crews, technical support in building aircraft hangar as well as making Nigeria a hub and training in catering services.
He dismissed the agreement and insisted that Lufthansa must pay all the money it owed NCAA because there was nothing binding either in the MoU or the Commercial Agreement that would stop Lufthansa from paying the royalty.
The Committee also expressed anger that a former Minister of Aviation, Mr. Babatunde Omotoba, unilaterally increased Lufthansa’s frequency from four to 14.
The Committee resolved to summon Omotoba to explain why he should increase the airlines frequency without commensurate revenue to the Federal Government
“People are quick at comparing us with all these mushroom countries. We have this huge market here that must be protected.
“When they go and have something convenient for them in Ghana and Togo that is not up to two local governments in Nigeria.
“They use it as a model to implement policies in Nigeria and we lose money and we look stupid before the international community.
“I think as a matter of fact you must join hands and protect the market which is our own treasure,” Uzodinma said.
General Manager (Air Transport), NCAA, Mr. Peter Alawani, disclosed that NCAA wrote series of letters to Lufthansa to pay the debt but the efforts hit a dead end when the airline claimed it was not obliged to pay given the MoU it signed with the Ministry of Aviation.
Meanwhile, the committee has called for a review of the MoU and the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with Germany.