The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), a serial repudiator of agreements with its contractors and concessionaires, has again come into full glare of the whole world. Keen watchers of recent unfolding events in the Nigerian aviation sector cannot be less astonished than I do over the warped handling of issues, policies and intrigues in the highly technical and globally regulated industry. The shoddy manner with which things are going are glaring pointers to the fact that the present Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led government, is yet to find a truce to the myriad of problems besetting the beleaguered sector barely thirteen years into our current democratic experience.
Following the assumption of the reins of power by the Olusegun Obasanjo led administration in 1999, attention of Nigerians were, more than ever before, drawn to the aviation sector by the seemingly hurried attempt to fix the then burnt Terminal One, through a strange agreement christened Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT). The euphoria that greeted the move rose to high heavens as suspicions were pricked that government might be scheming to corner the juicy points in the industry for its political allies. The suspicion began to don a sincere toga with the rushed liquidation of the nation’s flag carrier, the Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) without much attempt to settle labour issues before the sale to Arik Air. Agitation rose to near crescendo, but government was able to persuade a lot of Nigerians that the move was to shed its weight of responsibilities so that it can concentrate more on real business of governance. To this effect, government put forward its intention to focus more on non-aeronautic revenue and give such to private hands in its move to promote its Private Public Partnership (PPP) agenda as well as boost the revenue base of the agencies. The move was quick to gain support for the fact that Pan Express Services Limited, a private indigenous company, had earlier introduced cargo management operations to the government in 1996, under PPP directive. Following this footstep, Bi-Courtney then came in to build and operate
the MMA2, Maevis to operate Airport Operation Management Services (AOMIS), I-Cube West Africa Limited to man the toll gate at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos and several other concessionaires.
With the ardent resolve of Obasanjo government to see the PPP agenda through, the onus fell on the FAAN to take the initiatives on which revenue point to concession out, the form it should take and the company to which such should be given to. The agreements were indeed coined the way FAAN wanted it and concessionaires set at work and indeed effect glaring transformation at the airports. In actual fact, these concessionaires opened virgin areas for revenue generation and also expand the financial coast of FAAN through automation of services and setting up of foolproof revenue gathering devices that make evasion of dues payment almost impossible for airport facility users.
But the PPP agenda which promised Nigerians better days ahead is going awry. Nigerians as well as their foreign counterparts abroad, who bought into the idea, are licking their wounds in what seems like a rape on their intellectual contributions to their motherland. Only recently, FAAN defied court order and forcefully hijacked and stopped the operations of Maevis at the airports. The office of Maevis was broken into and its staff held hostage as FAAN, in most barbaric manner, devised to end an agreement it by itself entered into with the company. The effect of the dastardly act is currently having a heavy toll on international passengers who now have to spend hours before check in. Before this odd ejection by FAAN, normal profiling of international passengers with the automation process deplored by Maevis in August 2008 at the airport took less than five minutes. The manual process that FAAN has caused the industry to revert to has taken us back to the dark days when long queues of passengers were commonplace at airline counters.
The effect of this crude hijack of operation from Maevis by FAAN is farther than meet the eyes. Thorough security check which in effect has a link to safety has been compromised, all in the desperate bid by the agency to reap where it did not cultivate. Foreign airlines are now manually carrying out Advanced Passengers Profiling (APP) and Advanced Passengers Information (API), a system deployed to detect terrorists and those that are on security list, contrary to the stipulations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on security.
The journey of FAAN’s disrespect for signed agreements and the speed with which they repudiate such, blatant and arrogant abuse of law and order, started long ago. Those close to happenings in the ailing sector will not be unfamiliar with the gory and wicked way a company called Pan Express’ cargo management concession was yanked in March 1998, barely six months after execution by FAAN. The company which came with its own revenue generation ideas into the industry, sought Federal Government consent and government directed FAAN to accept it, secured it, hatched its intent which led to high revenue turnover for FAAN in the area of cargo management operations and with a staff strength of over 250, is now being taken over by the agency. As it stand today, FAAN owes Pan Express over 1 Billion naira of unpaid debt while the company has been operationally manacled in the past three years.
Sad to note is the fact that FAAN has been consistently consistent in its fragrant abuse of law and order. Or how can one explain a situation whereby an agency will by itself draft an agreement as term of contract between it and its concessionaire and in turn breach it? Investigation reveals that the present situation which rather than achieving the set goal of attracting investors, is now assuming the garb of a terrific looking masquerade that is driving intending investors away on a fast lane.
Wielding a big stick and beckoning to hapless chicken to pick the maize seeds dotting the ground, FAAN has succeeded in showing the world that it is a confused entity, absolutely without focus and bereft of any genuine intention for growth in the aviation sector. The agency has transmuted into a bowl of milk where all manners of Managing Directors come to drink or leak as the case may be, with no genuine intention to serve, as should be the case for an agency thirsty for survival. They commit errors with impunity and then rush back to the ministry to feed them with lies and innuendoes.
But in actual fact, should much be expected from an agency as big as FAAN which has a public administrator sitting over its finance department? It is to my knowledge that the Federal Government had in the past ordered a reconciliation of account between FAAN and Pan Express with the former found to be owing the latter over a billion naira. Also, a catalogue of directives have been dropped on the laps of FAAN management from the presidency, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, National Security Adviser, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation, the Ministry of Aviation, to mention a few, for an amicable settlement of the Pan Express/FAAN dispute and a strict adherence to the terms of contract which gives Pan Express legitimacy to continue with the cargo management revenue generation, but with the FAAN management not shifting ground due to parochial interests.
(As) Pan Express’ ordeal is being (replicated) by Maevis in almost similar manner, one will be left to ask where the sanctity of law now resides in the country and what the role of the Federal Government is, (as) its lofty agenda of PPP is being battered and rubbished before the comity of nations. The recent row the Federal Government is having with British Airways over fare disparity is enough pointer to the fact that a group of parasites exist in the system that are advising the government wrongly for their own selfish gains. To think that British Airways which has been operating into the country in the last 75 years will stoop to the level of an upcoming Arik is more unreal than a dream. The earlier these bootlickers
and parasites are fished out and shown the way out, the better for all of us.
It is understood that the Attorney General and Justice Minister of the Federation has been advising the Federal Government on legal matters which has often been flaunted by some ministries and many parastatals and agencies for which the resultant effect is complete shame and disrepute to the nation. The question now is: Where have the ministries and agencies got the courage to flaunt and refuse genuine advice from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the nation from? It should be expected that contractors and concessionaires, which contracts are so rudely breached will have no option than to resort to litigation to seek redress. To my knowledge, legal fees, claims and damages arising from litigations in respect of FAAN as a result of agreement summersault is currently running to several billions of naira. This is becoming alarming and shameful to the nation.
To my mind, the government has to quickly resolve to call any past Managing Director found to be culpable in the ongoing cases to question and award sanctions accordingly. It is when government is seen to be picking interest in matters like this that others coming after them will be alive to their responsibilities as ‘shot -callers and overseers of affairs’.
Federal appointees should be reminded that their appointments are to serve as bridge between the government and the public. That is why they are called public servants and not civil servants. It is high time the government went back to the drawing board, hold a parley with the aggrieved concessionaires, fine-tune every grey area and come to a conclusion that will be beneficial to all parties.
It is a known fact that when an idea is conceptualized, only the conceiver has the ability to midwife such scheme fully. An idea, when hijacked, will suffer growth retardation at the level the author left it and possibly, only a meager fraction of what is conceived can be actualized. Therefore, it is when encouragement comes the way of those who braved the odds to invest in our dying system that others will be encouraged to follow suit. A stitch in time, at times, saves more than nine.
Gboyega Adeoye is a media practitioner and apprentice member, Aviation Round Table