By Chinedu Eze

Workers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) under the auspices of the Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) have rejected the plan by the federal government to concession four major airports in the country located in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt.

This was disclosed to THISDAY at the weekend by the Assistant General Secretary of NUATE, Mr. Olayinka Abioye, who accused government of not putting the interest of the workers into consideration. He vowed that the workers would resist the plan to concession the airports, recalling that when the defunct Nigeria Airways was liquidated, the workers were left to die without their pay off or pensions, which rose to over N72billion.

The federal government said it could no longer fund the development of airport facilities due to its lean resources. The government is therefore inviting the private sector to invest in the growth of the facilities through Public, Private Partnership (PPP) and has in its initial plan the concession of the first major airports in the country.

Reacting to this plan Abioye said: “What we need to recognise first of all is the fact that government particularly in the last 10 years, has been shifting its core responsibilities and this may be due to globalisation and neo-liberalism and it wanted to engage in what is called Public, Private Partnership. There is nothing wrong with that if it is done with honesty and it is also purpose driven. Unfortunately we do not believe, particularly with what we are seeing that Nigeria is ripe for concession and privatisation of public utilities.”

Abioye noted that the major reason why workers are opposed to the plan besides lack of consideration for the interest of the workers, was that all efforts in the past to concession airport facilities failed due to lack of objectivity or transparency and the few that could be described as successful were skewed in favour of the investors and against the interest of government which represent the public interest.

“We have very bad examples to give. And one of the few successes of such arrangement is Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) take over and building of the domestic terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMA2), Lagos. Bi-Courtney also has its own problems that we have been battling since the last 10 years or so. We observed that some of these concession arrangements are written in such a manner that at the end of the day it is skewed in favour of the investor against the interest of the Nigerian government and the people. That is our worry,” he said.

The Assistant Secretary General queried why the government chose to concession the most lucrative airports, which are the mainstay of FAAN’s revenue and provide the resources that are used to manage the other airports.

“So why would it be Murtala Muhammed Airport, Kano airport and Port Harcourt airport that government wants to sell? What is the reason why the other 16 airports that are underutilised are not considered for this purpose? This is because my understanding is that PPP is very good to bring about quality service and so on and so forth. Having said that; there are other situations that government had to do something before we can get to the table and say this is what we are going to do.

“We are aware that people have been going round our airports making inspections and all that, but unfortunately the government is taking us for granted. What do you want to concession? It is the building or the facilities inside? What happens to the federal public servants that are working in those airports? Nobody is addressing those things. A very sad case and reminder is the defunct Nigerian Airways, which government woke up one morning and liquidated,” he said.

He noted that the federal government still owed workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways about N72billion, pointing out that more than 800 of the workers had died since the liquidation of the national airline.

“So these are the issues that bother us. We held a congress some days ago and we told the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) whose responsibility by the Act that established it is to manage all airports owned by the federal government and if that is so, it means that the federal government might have had some instructions to the management of FAAN, which ought to have said, labour, you are representing our workers. This is what government has said; how do we go about this to ensure that it works,” Abioye also said.

However, he said that the workers might buy the airports if other negotiations fail, remarking that the workers have the wherewithal to buy the airports.

“I can tell you that the feelers we have received from our people, the mandate as I speak to you is that we are going to say an emphatic no to concession of these four major airports and the reasons are not far fetched. However, we are also of the opinion that if the chickens come home to roost, Nigerian workers operating in FAAN have enough money to buy up these four airports and when we get there we shall find a way to cross the river,” the Assistant Secretary General declared.