The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has drawn the battle line between him and the domestic airlines after the domestic carriers pointed out critical reasons why the establishment of Nigeria Air under the current arrangement was aimed at driving them out of business, writes Chinedu Eze
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has explained to industry stakeholders the reason he wanted to demolish the headquarters of aviation agencies in Lagos to give way to aerotropolis project, eulogizing the project and how it would transform the aviation industry.
He took a swipe at the airline operators for not responding positively when he allegedly sought their support and inclusion for the national carrier project and insisted that the project must go on despite restraint from a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, which stopped the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Aviation from implementing the proposed National Carrier Establishment Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria, Nigeria Air Limited and Ethiopian Airlines.
Claiming that he was not aware of the restraint, the Minister recalled that early in 2016, “we rolled out our roadmap and the unions at that time formed majority part of the stakeholders that were there. And there were more than 1000 people on the register that were recorded that attended. And we rolled out our roadmap, which included concession, the national carrier, the cargo, the Aviation University, the MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul), the leasing company and so on. And we are well interrogated at that event.
“And since then we have had almost quarterly of those stakeholder conferences, some in Lagos, and some in Abuja. And at every single time the union had been there and we have been also together with the union. I met with them; I am sure over 20 times as a Minister (of state), over 20 times as (substantive) Minister. And because we were doing a PPP Private, Public Programme), which is guided by ICRC (International Concession Regulatory Commission), which is ICRC is the constitutional agency saddled with the responsibility of doing concessions and PPP programs, we obeyed them. And there are two principal driving committees: The project delivery team, which is the engine house to which all of the activity of concession, national carrier, and the rest of the PPP is being grouped. And finally, the Project Steering Committee (PSC), which is approving unit of the Project Delivery Team (PDT). And no law, no law in Nigeria says that union should form part of either the PDT or the PSC. It is me, Hadi Sirika, for fairness, for representation, for participatory leadership, that I said that we should include members of the union in that committee.
“So that they are aware of what we are doing from day one, from the appointment of the transactional adviser, to the formation of the outline business case and all those route financial closure. So that nobody would say that they are not been carried along and no stakeholder today in Nigeria, I have met some imminent Nigerians. People that I hold in high respect and I still respect them, were even ministers before me, in fact they were ministers when I was in school. I have read some of them saying that they have not carried along the stakeholders in their actions and decisions as I did,” Sirika said.
He denied that the establishment of the national carrier was literally done under the table, as alleged by airlines and other industry stakeholders, insisting that he urged some industry stakeholders, especially existing airlines to become part of the new national carrier.
“It is not true (that he singlehandedly established the national carrier). It’s absolutely incorrect. It is very unfair on us. Because we advertised those on conferences and we said what we were going to discuss, and we did it. I earned the name-calling from you, the press. Mr. Concession, Mr. National Carrier. How did you come to know about them if you have not been involved? That is number one. Number two, ICRC is the only agency, or at least the first agency on earth, the first agency on planet earth that opened a portal where all the activity is uploaded online to which you can access and read. So you don’t know about it. It’s either you miss it, not on purpose, or you are lazy to do so,” the minister further said.
Other Projects in the Aviation Map
Sirika said that other projects in the aviation map were also uploaded in the ICRC website; “so nobody should claim that he has not been carried along.”
“And there is Freedom of Information Act today, including Google. Nobody had ever asked for a document from the Ministry of Aviation and I denied him. I have always obliged, if you ask me the name of my mother I will give you. But nobody that ever wrote to ask for one document or another and had not been given. So if you say you have not been included, I think it’s unfair on us. I think we should have the credit of transparency today. If I put it this way, if you ask every contractor, including this one (who attended the event) and all of the airline owners, the contractors, if any one of them has been to my office to ask for his document to be pushed, if any. So that said, I want to appreciate the question to give me this opportunity to explain. So every stakeholder in this country has been carried through our own advertisement, through the website, through the stakeholder conferences, through personal visitation by me,” Sirika said.
Participating in the National Carrier
Alleging that the airlines lied by saying that they were not carried along, the minister said that the National Assembly aviation committees were updated with the updates and procedures towards the establishment of the national carrier.
“The airline owners said they were not carried along. But if you were there in the National Assembly, both House of Representative and Senate, they chickened out because I called their names and told them where I met them individually. The Max Air, Azman, Air Peace, Ibom Air, everybody where I met them and told them, please come and partner in this airline and own it. It’s meant for you, the private sector. Keep your Air Peace, keep your Max Air, and come and invest in this one. And I went to them individually and one of them said that the method of informing him was informal. I said, well, I went to you at least; I met you in your own place. I discussed with you and I invited you. But if it is informal, I have put it on all the daily media adverts. I have also put it on The Economists. I have also put it on television. I have also put it on the website. So, how more formal can that be? And it is also always been an item in the stakeholder conferences to discuss. I always end by saying, you the stakeholders are invited to come and partner in this project and programs. They are fully private sector, so nobody should say he has not been invited,” Sirika said.
Reacting to Court Restraint
Sirika who insisted he was not aware that anybody went to cour, said: “I am not aware yet that anybody is in court. I have not received any court paper; otherwise I will not discuss it. But I cannot see any court, any rational court that will say I am stopping somebody from establishing a company. Because Nigeria Air is a limited liability company, known to Nigeria Laws in the Corporate Affairs Commission.
“So if anybody wants to come and invest in that company of Nigeria, there is no law in Nigeria that stops him from doing so. If there are foreigners coming to invest, nobody is stopping them from investing. You can own the company a hundred percent, Messr (referring to the contractor that installed the runway lights) is not Nigerian, they have been delivering projects. And what would you say to Shell, Uniliver, May and Baker, Julius Berger, PW (airport construction company)? They are companies, known to Nigerian Law and people are coming to invest. What is the big deal? This is what we want. We want Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). So, if it is 350 million dollars for the airline and somebody is bringing 200 million dollars into Nigeria, why not? We want more of them.”
On the planned demolition of structures housing aviation offices in Lagos, which include the headquarters of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); just as the edifice, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) was demolished earlier in the year, forcing majority of the workers to relocate to Abuja, the Minister said that the offices were decrepit structures that were hitherto planned to be temporary and now should inevitably give way to the lofty aerotropolis that was aimed at transforming the aviation industry.
He benumbed grumblings about the plan and spontaneously received ovation about the aerotropolis project, which has become global trend of building airport community for more inclusive and boost to non-aerotronautical revenue. In fact this is commonly defined as a metropolitan subregion whose infrastructure, land use, and economy are centered on an airport. It fuses the terms “aero-” and “metropolis”.
The Minister argued that it was to have this lofty project that prompted the Buhari administration to want to demolish these existing structures; even at the twilight of the administration.
“I wish that it (the demolition) would happen tomorrow morning. I wish that happens tomorrow morning. This, chaos is what you want as an airport? This chaos in all of these places is it what you want for an aerotropolis, which is part of the roadmap? Don’t you want a rail link between the old domestic terminal and the new international terminal? Don’t you want that? Don’t you want pattern structures where there are cinemas, Spas, shopping malls, banks, airline offices and a befitting headquarters for Lagos? The chaos that you have here is what you call an airport? Do you want to continue to live like this? Do you want to keep going to Dubai and come back and say wow these people have done wonderfully well? Do you want keep going to Ghana and using your phone and say, common Ghana, see Ghana? Is that what you want? So given the chance, I will demolish all the headquarters. In fact, I told somebody that I am going to demolish from where Arik used to be, Nigeria Airways, all the way to police to Aero Contractors to Bristol and something that is befitting of Lagos. Come on, this is Lagos; this is our premier airport,” Sirika said.
The Minister rubbished the suggestion that there are other parcels of land the aerotropolis could be built without demolition of existing structures.
He said: “So, the headquarters of FAAN is developed. That wooden structure that has burnt twice is development? Number two, this is an executive function…by the grace of God; we have been invested upon to carry it out. We will carry the stakeholders along. It is their right to know. We will not do it under the table. I have not been known for that neither has anything that I have supervised, been known for that. If we want to demolish a building to make something better, nobody should stop us from doing so, because we know it is for the good of our industry. I am sure those living in FAAN headquarters, an office of a director, is like from here to where you are including the secretary, are made of bamboo 40 years ago. It is a transit place meant for those who would build the airport.
“Don’t you remember, were you there? Were you old enough to be there? I was there. So, ladies, gentleman, anything new that you bring people must resist it. And it is normal to resist. They are human beings. We are serving them. We will serve them better. We will do the right thing.
History of posterity will judge us whether we are taking the correct decision on behalf of our people. My concern is the 200 million people that decided to vote for us and we will serve them, we will do those policies that are good. Let somebody come in May 29, and reverse those things that we have done, and let us see what the stakeholder will do.”