Labour Unions Restate Opposition to Airport Concession

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•  FG queries NAHCON over exclusion of indigenous carrier from Hajj operation

Chinedu Eze

Labour unions in the aviation industry have said they would continue to oppose the concession of major airports in the country, because the exercise would give rise to huge loss of jobs for their members.

This is just as the Ministry of Aviation has chided the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) for excluding a Nigerian operator, Skypower Express from conducting Hajj operations this year.

The unions pointed out that the federal government’s concession programme has no provision for the welfare or compensation of the workers that would lose their jobs when the facilities are handed over to private investors to manage and develop.

This was made known by the General Secretary of Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Abdulrazaq Saidu, who said unions in the industry, would continue to kick against planned concession of some major airports across the country by the newly re-appointed Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.

Sirika had, during his first speech after his re-appointment as Minister of Aviation, reiterated the plan of the federal government to complete the concessioning of major airports in the country, ensuring the establishment of a national carrier, a national maintenance hangar and a leasing company.

Saidu, in an interview with aviation journalists at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos, said if government scaled through with the concession plan, several direct staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) would lose their jobs, while thousands of indirect staff would also be affected, stressing that this negated the policy of the government to create more jobs for qualified Nigerians.

The federal government said it would concession the four major airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano in the first phase of the exercise and the other ones in the second phase.

The federal government has about 22 airports operated and managed by FAAN.

“We are saying no to the planned concession of our airports. This is simple, we have security challenges in the country and we can’t leave our security in the hands of individuals or private organisations that we don’t trust or know their backgrounds.

“Just recently, somebody beat the security to gain access to an aircraft at Lagos airport. If government concessions the major gateways, it will be a haven for drug peddlers, money launderers and importation of unapproved ammunitions. We will be sitting on the keg of gunpowder,” Saidu said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Aviation has kicked against the attempt to prevent the Skypower Express Airways as a charter operator for the ongoing hajj exercise to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the NAHCON.

The ministry insisted that Skypower Express as a Nigerian carrier had met all the necessary provisions, rules and regulations of the country and deserved to be allowed to benefit from charters, ad hoc flights, just like Flynas, a charter operator from Saudi Arabia and any other interested charter operator around the world.

Letters obtained from the minister queried the statutory power of NAHCON, which granted it right to stop a charter operator like Skypower from the annual exercise to the Holy Land.

One of the letters, dated August 9, 2019 and signed by the ministry’s Legal Adviser/Aviation, S.S. Liman, on behalf of the Permanent Secretary and sent to the NAHCON Chairman, noted that the commission has no power to unilaterally exclude an airline for the hajj exercise without liaising with appropriate government authorities before coordinating hajj and Umrah activities.

The letter said NAHCON did not liaise with the ministry on its circulars banning airlines on charter operations during hajj operation.

It insisted that all issues of civil authority in Nigeria was superintendent by the Ministry of Aviation as the aeronautical authority of Nigeria, noting that the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) endorsed between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was misrepresented in the commission’s letter.

Liman in the letter insisted that charter services were not discriminated by the BASA operation between the two countries, rather it subjected the same to the approval of the contracting parties’ aeronautical authorities.

“The decision whether or not Skypower Express or airline operators/companies of Nigeria should or can operate charter flight to Saudi is not for the Commission to take as it is clearly beyond its mandate.

“Section 4 (i) (b) of the commission Act is referred to. That decision can only be made by the aeronautical authority of Nigeria (the Federal Ministry of Transportation).”

Earlier, NAHCON in a letter dated August 2, 2019 with the reference number NAHCON/A1/18/III/341 had arrogated to the commission alone the powers to determine who participated in the activities of hajj operation in all its ramifications, citing 4 (a) of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (Establishment) Act 2006 as its authority.