Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Senate on Thursday expressed grave concern over the continuous exit of some foreign airlines in Nigeria as well as the suspension of operations by others, saying the trend will further compound the plights of troubled Nigerians.
The parliament therefore said it supported the move by the government to promptly intervene in the crisis bedevilling the aviation sector “with a view to saving the traveling masses from greater hardship and reduce the ongoing suffering occasioned by these challenges.”
It also urged the federal government to ensure that it secures commitments from the airlines billed to benefit from government’s special intervention that they will not indiscriminately increase airfares and simultaneously ensure that ticket pricing remains competitive “within the regional market indicators.”
The Senate also advised the government to scrutinise the currency management systems and consequently save the country “from further divestments and business failures in order to save Nigerian workers and their families the implication of Nigerian businesses going offshore.”
It also frowned at the regulation of the sector by Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in foreign currency as it charged the agency to henceforth denominate all local charges in local currency in accordance with the laws of the land.
The resolutions were the aftermath of a motion moved by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) in which he lamented what he described as emerging challenges in the aviation sector as a result of the current economic recession.
Melaye said the development had resulted in foreign airlines such as United, Iberia, Emirates and Kenyan Airlines either suspending or withdrawing their operations from the country.
According to him, the crisis had the tendency to make life more difficult for ordinary Nigerians whom he said had been grappling with the adverse effects of the current economic recession as he blamed the suspension or withdrawal of operations by the airlines on their inability to obtain forex to fund their operations.
Melaye said the implications of this development were grave on the economy especially in terms of its impact on job creation policy, investment drive and economic recovery plans.
He, however, expressed hope that the current steps being taken by the government to address the problem through its policy directives such as concession and special arrangements would save the sector from collapse.
He insisted that the government was duty bound to make the welfare of citizens its main priority through “sustainable programme of intervention and policy direction that will put the industry back on the course of growth.”
Supporting the motion, Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, blamed the situation on government’s poor monetary policy, arguing that any policy that is not predicated on security and welfare of the people is a failure.
He warned against handling the matter with non-challant attitude, observing that if the matter is not promptly nipped in the bud, it will result in airlines’ inability to maintain their aircraft and consequently resulting in air crashes.
Besides air crashes, he said the trend would result in mass loss of jobs as he recalled how organisations such as Julius Berger and Exxon Mobil had laid off over 10,000 employees.
In his remark, Senate President Bukola Saraki emphasised the need for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to avert the suffering of the masses by putting machinery in place to forestall further suspension of airlines’ operations.
Also yesterday, the Senate finally passed the North-east Development Commission Bill which empowers the federal government to set up a commission to rebuild the North-east region following its devastation by Boko Haram insurgents.
The Senate also included Kano and Plateau States on the list of states to benefit from the rebuilding plans despite their locations in North-west and North-central respectively.
The decision to include Kano and Plateau in the rebuilding plan followed a protest by Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano Central) that the two states were several times attacked by the insurgents.
The bill provides that the commission should be located in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital and funded by 3 per cent of the federation’s value added tax (VAT).