On Tuesday, workers under the aegis of two unions- National Union of Air Transport Employees, (NUATE) and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association, (ATSSSAN) staged protests against the planned concession of four international airport terminals by the federal government.
The protesters caused traffic gridlock on the link road between the domestic and international wings of the airport, but police stopped them from reaching the front of the international terminal.
That was the first physical demonstration to convey to government and concerned authorities that the workers are opposed to the planned concession of the terminals in the four major international airports located in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano.
The workers said they would continue to carry out the demonstration against the planned concession.
Speaking at the Freedom Square, where the workers assembled for the protests, 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.
Minister of State on Aviation, Senator Hadi 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.
But the workers are asking, why the government wants to concession the most viable airports first and leaving the less and unviable airports? FAAN said the money generated from the Lagos airport is used to maintain those unviable ones and now if the airport along with the three others is given out in concession, how will the other airports be maintained?
Industry observers have suggested prior to now, the cluster of airport in the concession programme, whereby any organisation, which takes, for example, the Abuja airport will also take the airports in Ilorin, Makurdi, Yola and any other in the middle belt region.
So the workers see the plan to take over the most viable airports as a way to cripple the operations of FAAN and render it insolvent and consequently liquidate it. Then what will be the fate of the workers?
The acting General Secretary of NUATE, Abioye told THISDAY that government was not putting the interest of the workers into consideration and threatened that the workers would resist the plan to concession the airports, recalling that when the defunct Nigeria Airways was liquidated, workers were left to die without their pay off or their pensions which rose to over N72billion.
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 the lack of objectivity or transparency. Besides, he said, 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,” Abioye said.
He also wanted to know why 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.
“I can tell you 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,” he said.
Sirika, in a recent forum, assured Nigerians that their interest would not be jeopardised in the resolve to concession some of the nation’s airports.
He said the federal government has resolved to concession Nigerian Airports and explained this was borne out of its desire for effective and efficient management of the airports and adequate utilisation of the abundant skilled manpower in the Aviation sector.
“The best way to go is the Public Private, Partnership and so, we are going that way,’’ he said, adding that giving out the airports to the private sector to manage would make the system grow faster.
He noted that there has been no remarkable growth and development of infrastructure in the industry due to paucity of funds in government, so the most practical thing is to bring in the private sector through concession.
The apprehension of the workers is justified going by past experiences where the interest of the employees was not adequately represented. It happened during the liquidation of Nigeria Airways; it also happened recently when Skypower Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) was sold to a private concern.