Aviation minister allays fear over airports’ concession
• Says no retrenchment plan in ministry
• Why I don’t travel by air, by Lasun
Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Abubakar Sirika, has allayed fear that on-going moves to concession four airports would be injurious to the country.
Sirika, who appeared before House of Representatives Committee on Aviation led by Mrs. Nkiruka Onyejiocha, also faulted the notion that there was a mass retrenchment of workers in the ministry.
The minister stated that most of the agencies under the ministry were structurally over-bloated. He cited the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as one of the outfits structurally defective where he said he realised there were 40 general managers for 20 airports in the country.
He expressed concern over the parlous state of the country’s airports, noting that government was left with no choice but to concession them to private investors who have the wherewithal to upgrade their facilities to meet international standards.
He said: “We are not selling the airports. We will concession them to put them to better use from the old ways of doing things in absolute secrecy. The National Assembly, the unions and everybody would be part of the process. We also share the concern of the workers. We will find a middle ground on the issue for the good of the country.”
The minister, who hinted of government’s resolve to establish an aviation university, identified the problem associated with procuring foreign exchange from the Central Bank of the Nigeria (CBN) as the bane of domestic flight operators.
He said that he had already waded in by liaising with the CBN to rectify the issue.
But the chairman of Air Transport Service of Nigeria (ATSN), Mr. Benjamin Okewu, expressed scepticism over the planned concession, adding that his fears were borne out of the need to safeguard the interest of workers in the aviation sector revolving around security of their jobs, payment of salaries and their pension and severance benefits.
House of Representatives Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, reiterated its resolve to tackle the multifaceted problems bedeviling the sector.
The Deputy Speaker, Mr. Sulaimon Yusuff Lasun, who represented Dogara, recalled that since the crash of Dana aircraft, he had avoided air travel to his native Osogbo town out of fear for his life.
This, he said, underscored the level of apprehension among a section of the citizenry and the need to ensure safety in the sector.