- denies spending N14.6b on Nigeria Air
The Federal Government, on Wednesday vowed to move against foreign airlines selling tickets to Nigerians in dollars instead of the Naira, insisting that such practice is a violations of Nigerian laws.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, disclosed this to State House Correspondents after the week’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, which was presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at that Presidential Villa in Abuja.
According to him, findings at government’s disposal, revealed that some of the airlines are refusing naira and charging their ticket fares in dollars in violation of the country’s laws, while some others have blocked local travel agencies from accessing their websites for transactions, choosing to release only expensive tickets.
However, no violator, no matter how highly placed, would be spared if caught, said Sirika, who assured the public that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has been instructed to swing into action over the report.
“Reports are reaching us that some of the airlines are refusing to sell tickets in naira. That is a violation of our of local laws, they will not be allowed. The high and the mighty amongst them will be sanctioned, if they’re caught doing that.
“NCAA has been directed to swing into action and once we find any airline violating this, we will definitely deal with them. Also, they blocked the travel agents from access. They also made only the expensive tickets available.
“Our regulators are not sleeping, we have a very vibrant Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Once they find any airline guilty, that airline will be dealt with because we need to protect our people. It is according to our agreements, to what we have signed and this is according to international convention.
“So going forward, they should desist from doing things that are outside of the law. They should also desist from writing us and putting things in social media. They should go through diplomatic channels if they want response from federal government”, he stated.
The Minister disclosed that the foreign airlines made over $1.1 billion from Nigeria in 2016, when the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration cleared the $600 million owed them, which was inherited from previous government, noting that if it was retained in the country through Nigerian official airline, it would have created jobs.
Sirika recalled that the airlines remitted over $600 million to their home countries in 2016 while over $265 million has also been released this year out of about $484 million due to them.
He said the government was trying to keep the airlines happy by ensuring that their money does not pile up again, saying that while the country needs their services, the airlines need the Nigerian market.
The Minister warned them to refrain from using the social media to press home their demands rather than resorting to the diplomatic channels.
Meanwhile, Sirika, has described as irresponsible, embarrassing and lies, a report in a national daily that the Nigeria Air project has already gulped over N14.6 billion of government’s funds despite having only five percent stake in the airline.
According to him, government has only spent N651 million (N352 million and N299 million) for what he called transactional advisory services approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), but yet to be fully disbursed as the consultants were yet to finish their work.
“Nigeria Air is of course, we are going to come very soon to Council (FEC) for approval of the full business case. And the activity is a Public Private Partnership, which is guided by the ICRC regulations, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission”, he explained.
He added: “There’s also accusation as to secrecy in what we’re doing. Nigeria, I’m very proud to say, is the first country and maybe perhaps the only to put up a portal where all public private partnership activities are being uploaded on daily basis.
“People should not be pen-lazy, not to research, not to ask questions in view of the Freedom of Information Act in place. Every single query to me on my desk, using Freedom of Information Act, I had always obliged. There’s nothing secret about government work anymore. And we’re not keeping anything in secrecy.
“If anybody wants anything to do with a national carrier or any other project on civil aviation, you should go to our own website, to the website of ICRC and to the portal, everything is uploaded there.
“We have project delivery team in place by law, Project Steering Committee in place by law, and they’re all members of very many ministries and agencies and parastatals, including Labour.
“The Law didn’t say we should include Labour. But for maximum transparency, for fairness, we included Labour in this activity, and they participated fully. So there’s nothing secret about it.”