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*Slams foreign airlines over profit repatriation
Olawale Ajimotokan and Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
The federal government has fiercely justified the deal it struck with Ethiopia Airlines as the preferred bidder for Nigeria Air scheduled to take off at the end of the year.
Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika rationalised the pick yesterday at the PMB Administration’s Scorecard 2016-2023 series in Abuja, noting that the Ethiopian Airlines was the only airline that responded to its requests for expression of interest and fulfilled all the stipulated conditions laid down by Nigeria.
Sirika said the agreement was in line with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) agreement of a single African market and also the African Union’s Agenda 2063 on the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), aimed at creating a single unified air transport market in Africa, liberalising civil aviation and driving the continent’s economic integration agenda.
Ethiopia Airlines was expected to stump $171.5 million of the total $350 million investment to start the airline for a stake of 49 per cent equity, while the federal government would provide $17. 5 million of its five percent stake in the business. The remaining 46 per cent would be held by institutional Nigerian investors.
“I am not making case for Ethiopia Airlines. It is an African Airline and it has been in existence for 70 years. They fought a war but the airline was saved.
“Ethiopian airline was the only airline on earth that made profit during COVID and today it declared this year a profit of $1 billion. The only other airline that declared profit is Qatar Airline. Yes, they are doing it correctly. “They have not passed the 170 airline mark, but they have a robust organisation and are a member of Star Airline. They are a huge company. Because they are African does not mean they are not good,” Sirika said.
He brushed aside criticisms of the deal, insisting the reason why the federal government decided to partner Ethiopian Airlines was because the negotiations with it went through a transparent process.
“Whether you like it or not, an airline to serve about 250 million Nigerians at the centre of Africa must interact, must associate and partner with a foreign airline. And Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa while Nigeria is the largest in Africa.
“Transportation is about population. Connecting those two populations is the best thing to happen to Africa. If it happens by sheer luck, I think it will be the best thing to happen in Africa.” Sirika said.
He also urged the foreign carriers threatening to withdraw from Nigeria over their inability to repatriate their profit to respect the sovereignty of the country and the guarantee by President Muhammadu Buhari that he would resolve the dollar crunch before the end of next month.
“One would have taught that since the President had demonstrated he is responsible and his government had paid what it met and had promised he would pay before the end of December, one would have expected they would believe and trust us because of future benefits.
“But they are insisting Nigeria should be banned. Honestly, we need their service, but they need our market more. We are 250 million people while some of them are not more than 10 million. They should give us breathing space and respect.
“We need some honour as a country. We are a sovereign nation and they should understand,” Sirika said.
Speaking further, the minister noted that going forward, all airports in the country must be built and operated in accordance with the Aviation masterplan that had been developed in order to avoid chaotic situations that have already sprung out in many of the airports including Lagos International airport, where many structures have already been marked for demolition in overall public interest despite the cost involved.
Regarding the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Abuja, the minister pointed out that the entire stretch running from the Bill Clinton Way through Gwagwalada was captured under the Abuja Airport Masterplan, adding that any development that does not fit into the masterplan would be demolished.
He, therefore, cautioned individuals and entities currently carrying out development project along the stretch measuring about 12,000 hectares of land, to pause and await further information to avoid demolition.
He listed as the greatest legacy of the Buhari Administration in the aviation sector as the strengthening of the institutions running civil aviation in Nigeria to run on the standard of ICAO and in line with global best practices.
He identified the Nigerian aviation sector as the second most recovered in the industry, after Colombia, following the development, from the scratch, of the protocols for the safe, secure, orderly restart of the aviation industry after COVID-19.
He added Nigeria had achieved a total radio coverage of its entire airspace and in addition had developed the capacity to decode and decipher the ‘Black Box’ of aircraft in the event of any air crash.
Also, the country’s airports were for the first time in Nigeria’s history, certified, he said, adding that five international airports (Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Lagos and Port Harcourt) have been designated as Special Economic Zones, while a Boeing 737 simulator has been bought at a cost of $21 million to further build the capacity of pilots.