The new Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji, has said for Nigeria to effectively benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) treaty, it must have strong flag carriers.
Nnaji, expressed regret that despite the fact that Nigeria provides the huge passenger traffic in the region, its airlines have not benefitted from the market, noting that the regulators of free trade in the continent must ensure uniform operational environment.
According to him, the success of AfCFTA would be dependent on the liberalisation of the market to be accessed by participating countries and indigenous airlines must be given equal opportunities and the protective policies introduced by some countries to give their airlines undue advantage over others in the region be addressed.
Nnaji who stated this while interacting with aviation correspondents in Lagos recently, noted that it was regrettable that the country has remained passive in the continental aviation market in recent years despite huge passenger traffic out of Nigeria daily.
He said the plan to establish a national carrier was good, adding that the country still needs viable flag carriers to effectively compete in the continental and international air travel market.
According to him, “although floating government owned airline may not be an alternative, we will work closely with the executive arm of the government to ensure that efficient local airlines are supported as flag carriers to operate international destinations.”
“We all know the important role aviation plays in stimulating international trade, so if we must be relevant in AfCFTA initiative, our aviation sector must be of global standards in every aspect”, he said.
Nnaji, who represents Nkanu East/Nkanu West Federal Constituency, Enugu State, also disclosed that findings had shown that most of the foreign carriers operating into the country have continued to exploit Nigerians with exorbitant fares since the exit of Nigeria Airways, adding that the National Assembly would through legislation and every possible means seek to end the rip-off of Nigerian travellers.
“I have also discovered that all the foreign airlines maintain city offices where they sell tickets directly to passengers instead of through travel agents, against what is obtainable globally; thereby denying our local travel agents the opportunity of earning revenues that would have reduced capital flights and provided employment for our people,” Nnaji noted.
He assured that his committee would partner with agencies and the Ministry of Aviation where necessary to make the country’s airspace safe, noting that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) must be strengthened to carry out its oversight responsibility without fear or favour.
Nnaji also disclosed that his committee would be engaging the leadership of the sector as soon as the House resumes from its break to further identify areas that need to be addressed to reposition the industry for efficiency and reliability.