Apprehension is the word to describe the temperament of an average worker of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) whenever the issue of concession comes up.
Although government had muted the idea several times that it would concession the airports because owing to lack of resources to sustain the 22 airports it built under the management of FAAN, but it had not taken any bold step, except the concession of the domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, known as MMA2, which became operational in 2007.
Before the Late Umar Musa Yar’adua took over as the President of Nigeria, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja had been concession. Not satisfied with the concession arrangement and failure for the company that won the concession to take over at stipulated period, government nullified it.
But now, it seems the government is committed to the concession and has said it would first concession the first four airport terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. However, the workers’ apprehension stems from the fear that government may not follow laid down rules to ease them out and compensate them adequately.
They always cite the experience of workers of the defunct Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) who waited for their payment and pension until many of them died. But this time, the workers have vowed they would not suffer the same fate or instead buy the airport facilities themselves.
THISDAY spoke to a top official of the FAAN branch of Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), who criticised the planned concession and said instead government should operate a Public, Private Partnership (PPP) whereby the investor would bring his funds, his technical team and work with skilled FAAN personnel in an arrangement where FAAN would remain intact and more money generated as government would not have any input in the new system.
On how the workers of FAAN would be settled, the official said that the workers who would be willing to leave should be paid off; because it would not be everybody that would be willing to work in the new system. Then government would look at FAAN workers’ pension and negotiate it along other labour issues with the workers.
“The pension liability of FAAN is about N1.2 billion. I hope government would be able to provide the money that would be needed to settle the workers. Like what they did to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, a proper arrangement will be done and what those that will be laid off should be determined and agreed on. So that who would want to work with the new investor or whom the new investor would want to work with can continue, while others will leave.
“But I don’t understand the concession plan because what will work better is PPP. FAAN will run the airports effectively without government. It is government that will impose incompetent people and insist they continue to occupy their offices even when they are not good. We have very good hands in FAAN that can turn these airports around without government interferences,” he said.
The complaint over the years is that the workforce in FAAN and other aviation agencies is over-bloated. Obviously an investor running a concession would prefer leaner personnel largely made of highly skilled workers. So obviously many workers would lose their jobs and if the lay off is done as expected they would be well compensated and many would invest their monies into business ventures instead of looking for another white collar job.
“If I am well compensated I will say a pretty goodbye to FAAN and invest my money into business. But we must get our money. I don’t trust government. These days they rarely keep their promises and the workers will not take any of that from them. If they want to privatise or concession let them do so but also remember that airport security is critical and can only be effectively handled by government agency,” another source told THISDAY.
Although many people believe the concession plan is a thing its time has come, but government beyond wishes might not drive it to reality. Although recently government set up a committee to see to its implementation but many are of the view that the process would still witness delays as government is yet to implement the necessary frameworks need for full implementation of the concession policy.
Also, there are fears that government will face legal battle in the plan to concession the Abuja airport because it did not follow the rules when it nullified the concession done at the airport in 2006, as the company involved took government to court.
While workers of FAAN are apprehensive about whether their interest would be protected, many of them believe concession is a needful thing that should be done. Many of such workers have garnered experience and training that would prepare them to join the next owners of the airport facilities after concession.