Aviation Sector Workers Protest Planned Airport Concessions

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•Ministers keep mum over protests
Chinedu Eze in Lagos, Bassey Inyang in Calabar, Dele Ogbodo in Abuja and Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano

Workers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) alongside its two affiliated unions, on Tuesday embarked on a peaceful protest across some states of the federation over the plan by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to concession the four major viable airports in the country.

Sirika had told Nigerians that the decision to concession the airports was borne out of government’s desire to have effective and efficient management of the airports and adequate utilisation of the abundant skilled manpower in the aviation sector.

 In a protest march at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, the Chairman of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Abuja branch, Mr. Lanre Popoola, said government should concentrate on developing the airports have low capacity utilisation of which its facilities.

According to him, Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt airports remain the country’s vibrant assets and therefore should not be sold out to private sector players.

He said: “We are not saying they should not concession airports; they should go to dormant airports like Minna, Gombe, Akure and Katsina that are not vibrant.

 “Abuja airport, the Lagos airport, the four vibrant airports are the heritage of our nation. We are not going to allow some contractors, all in disguise of being a minister to come and sell our heritage.
“We are not going to take that any longer. We must put a stop to this, this is going to be a continuous exercise, we are not going to relent until we have sent them out and our message must be carried straight to President Muhammadu Buhari.’’

The chairman urged the minister to have a rethink on the concession plan, adding that Buhari is a man of integrity and should not allow any body rubbish him.

He alerted that there was illegal recruitment going on in all aviation parastatals without any vacancy publications, stressing that it has become necessary for anti-graft agencies to wade into the employment racketeering.

In Kano,  the Chairman of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Ahmed Lawal Fagge, who spoke on behalf of NUATE and NUP at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, said the concession of the four viable/major airports would lead to the death of 6,000 FAAN workers.
Fagge said some cartels in the government are only interested in buying the viable airports and concession them Turkish investors.

 He said the move would lead to a serious national security breach as well as economic terrorism in which the workers union would mobilise and protest against any such attempt in the name of airport concession.

THISDAY learnt that the protesters were carrying placard with  inscription such as ‘Cartel in government are interested in buying the four viable airports, our airports cannot be sold in bits,’  ‘airport concession is economic terrorism and workers say no to airport concession.’

 The chairman also called on President Muhammadu Buhari not to succumb to the mindset of the aviation minister to concession the four viable airports, namely, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos and Kano.

In Lagos, there was severe gridlock at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) when aviation workers under the aegis of NUATE and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association, (ATSSSAN) staged protest against the planned concession of four international airport terminals by the federal government.

The workers who trekked from the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) to the international wing of the airport caused heavy traffic as they blocked the link road between the domestic and international terminals of the airport.

Since the idea was muted by the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, about two months ago, the workers have kicked against it and said the only condition was that the terminals would be concessioned to them.

Sirika said the major international airports in the country located in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano would be given out in concession first before others would be considered.

The workers said going by the experience when the defunct Nigeria Airways was liquidated and the workers were not paid their severance package and many of them died in penury, they would not wait to suffer the same fate, but must fight against the concession.

Speaking at the Freedom Square, where the workers assembled for the protest on behalf of the unions, the acting General Secretary, NUATE, Olayinka Abioye and General Secretary, ATSSSAN, Francis Akinjole said that the workers would resist any attempt by the government to concession the four airports.

They alleged that the unions were aware that some organisations were already coming forward to buy these ‘viable airports, adding that the unions cannot mortgage the destiny of over 6,000 workers of FAAN into the selfish hands of few political cartel or individual concessionaires.

They warned interested parties to stay off from the concession transactions and observed that in the last three months there had been uncontrolled employment and improper placement of certain category of staff without recourse to the Federal Character and Public Service Rule, describing such action as a ploy to render FAAN insolvent for them to acquire.

However, they noted that the Minister, Sirika gave assurance that the interest of Nigerians would not be jeopardised in the concession process of the aforementioned airports.
In Calabar, FAAN workers equally staged a peaceful protest  against the plans to concession the airports to private sector.

The four airports are Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Abuja.
The protest was in form of a rally staged at the premises of the Margaret Ekpo International Airport.
Addressing workers during the rally, the chairman of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Idisi Ambrose, said the workers completely reject the plans to concession the four airports because it would not serve the interest of air transportation in the country.

Ambrose said starting the policy with the four airports would be counter-productive to the nation’s aviation sector.

He said the thinking of the workers is that the other airports in the country such as Calabar should be made to be more viable before the contemplation of concession of any airport.
However, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and Minister of State for Aviation, i Sirika, both kept sealed lips over the protests.

Text messages sent to both ministers were not responded to. Also, their lines could also not be reached even after several attempts.

But speaking with THISDAY on condition of anonymity, a top official of the ministry hinted that Sirika was presently out of the country, adding that at the appropriate time, the permanent secretary in the ministry would respond.