Comrade Joseph Ajaero, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), has stated that the Congress fully supports the national carrier project while denouncing the Federal Government’s proposal to concession the four major airports in the nation.
Senator Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation, had previously explained at various fora, that the government’s plan to concession the airports was to inject private sector funding to develop cutting-edge airport facilities that can meet international standards; so that Nigeria, which has the highest flight traffic in West Africa, could be a sun-regional hub.
According to him, the government insisted on the creation of a national carrier in order to have a carrier that could be effectively competitive and could capitalize on the advantages of the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) through reciprocity by operating to places like London, New York, Paris, Dubai, and other places whose airlines also fly to Nigeria. Nonetheless, NLC has stated that it opposes airport concessions and will back the national carrier idea.
Although Nigerian airlines could serve as an alternative to a national carrier, the government has maintained that it lacks the funds to upgrade and modernize the international airports. Instead, it wants to concession the terminal facilities at airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano, where work is already well underway.
However, during a visit to one of the aviation unions, the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), in Lagos on Wednesday, Ajaero explained that Nigeria needed a national carrier because the nation could not continue to rely on foreign airlines. He also stressed that the establishment of a national carrier in the nation was long overdue, but insisted that the proper procedures must be followed.
He asserted that the nation could not support foreign airlines that swindle the nation at the expense of its domestic carriers. “We would demand as a matter of right, a national carrier. Nigeria must have a national carrier and we can’t be depending on foreign carriers,” Ajaero said.
He assured the union not to worry about the proposed concession of the four main international airports in the nation and the demolition of the office buildings of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and others in Lagos to make way for the airport city project known as Aerotropolis, insisting that the idea is a joke of the century and will be dead on arrival.
“I don’t think any human can concession here without paying entitlement. Anybody that takes over here as a concessionaire is spending his money for nothing. We have passed through privatization and so we know how it works and we know the dangers, so they are joking.
“I equally saw the Minister of Aviation talking about illegalizing the unions in the aviation and that is the highest joke of the century because he doesn’t have such powers. Don’t listen to anybody that is telling you he wants to take over the aviation industry, he can’t without following due process and then; you can’t shave somebody’s hair in his absence; you can’t say that you concession here and there, there can’t be an abortion without pregnancy; things must follow due process; that is the way it is; so, nobody should panic,” he said.
The NLC President further criticized the Aviation Minister’s inability to officially inaugurate the boards of the aviation agencies, claiming that all contracts granted and appointments made were unlawful, invalid, and unconstitutional.
He expressed surprise that there was no Board of Directors in the various agencies and claimed that this had undoubtedly resulted in some odd practices in the industry; such as the appointment of individuals from outside the aviation industry to head some directorates, while highlighting the fact that this prevents civil servants in the system from developing.
He said: “The issue of interim board is an illegality; because an interim Board is not the same thing as a Board. A properly constituted Board is by the Act and even in the Act, you see people who are supposed to be the Board members and their responsibility. If anybody is running his office, with his wife, his children, his personal assistant (PA) as a Board, he can’t take over the responsibility of a properly constituted board; and until that is done, he can’t even take any major decision; including the decision to concession airports. He cannot. So whatever they might have done as at now is void ab-initio; it is not only voidable but void ab-initio; so, it is good we understand it.”
The Secretary General of ANAP, Comrade Abdulrasaq Saidu, had earlier stated in his welcome speech that they were delighted to have the NLC President visit the union and that it was a great honor for them to have him there.
He outlined the issues the union wanted the national organization to address, including the concession of airports, Condition of Service (CoS), planned agency building demolition, erosion of the unions’ influence over aviation workers, and the lack of Boards of Directors over the previous eight years.
Comrade Kabir Gusau, the President General of ANAP, added his voice to the need for the NLC to address these issues immediately.
He praised the NLC President’s request for the formation of a national carrier, claiming that it would not only serve to fill the voluminous gaps left by the loss of pilots, engineers, and technical staff; but also aid to boost commercial activity in the sector.