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Battle for the soul of Lagos domestic airport terminal

By Guardian Nigeria
30 September 2009   |   4:38 am
THE hand-over of the domestic airport terminal of the Lagos airport to Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited under a legally binding agreement came without a fight from airport workers and Arik Air which claimed that they were short-changed by government. While Arik plans to fight on to make government rescind its decision, the new owners have pledged to integrate FAAN workers into the scheme, writes WOLE SHADARE.

When two elephants fight, the grass suffers. This adage adequately describes the ongoing face-off between the Chairman of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN) and Chief Joseph Arumemi Johnson, chairman of Arik Air.



Just as the face-off rages, two principal actors, the Minister of Aviation, Babatunde Omotoba and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Richard Aisuebeogun have being caught in the cross fire, leading to calls by the unions in the aviation for the duo to be sacked.

Not a few believe that the two heavy weights who are powerful contributors to the sector have deep animosity for each order, following comments by Arik legal counsel, Chief Assam Assam that Arik “will never use any facility operated by Bi-Courtney”.

Arik had indirectly showed without stating it that it equally wants to operate the old terminal, citing the fact that it dominates operations at the domestic wing of the airport.

The duo of Omotoba and Aisuebeogun has been accused of aiding Bi-Courtney to get the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos for refurbishment.

Arik Air, one of the biggest players had vowed to frustrate Federal Government’s move to concession the terminal to the aviation firm.

But Bi-Courtney, brandishing documents to buttress its claims, shows clearly that the government indeed awarded a concession agreement to the firm, as an addendum to the 36 years agreement it entered with government to refurbish the terminal under Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Under the arrangement, FAAN will collect revenue accruing from landing and parking, which forms the bulk of the authority’s revenue.

Omotoba had recently stated that the inability of government to fund the development of infrastructure at airports gave rise to the concessioning of airport, stressing that there was nothing wrong if government had decided to bring in private sectors to help out.

He reiterated that the 2009 budget for the sector was not enough to provide amenities in the airport, just as there are clear cases of misappropriation of funds by past managements of FAAN, which has led to decay of infrastructure at the nation’s gateways.

The facility was formally handed over to the aviation firm by the government through FAAN in the open, to give the country a befitting terminal that would lead to seamless facilitation of passengers.

Workers have expressed the fear of job losses, fearing that Bi-Courtney in retaliation for protesting the take over will retrench them. But spokesman for the firm Olugbenga Odugbesan, however, allayed workers’ fear, assuring that no worker of FAAN will be sacked, adding they will be integrated into the new system.

His words, “It has come to our notice that some persons are planning to disrupt operations at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, effective Wednesday, September 23, 2009. This plot, we gathered, was fuelled by the rumour that the Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, the concessionaire of the terminal, has planned a large scale workers’ layoff following the handover of the GAT by the Federal Government to Bi-Courtney”.

“The board and management of Bi-Courtney wish to dismiss this rumour as unfounded and out of place in our determined effort to provide modern infrastructure and create employment opportunities for Nigerians. The handover of GAT to BASL will not in any way result in job loss or disrupt smooth terminal and flight operations for scheduled domestic activities. It is noteworthy that since the handover of the terminal on Friday, operations have continued smoothly. The concerns of various aviation unions and other industry stakeholders are being addressed by Bi-Courtney in consultation with relevant bodies”, he added.

He reiterated that Bi-Courtney appreciates the services of all workers at GAT and looks forward to working along with them for an effective, viable and vibrant industry.

“Our unwavering commitment is to transform the industry by upgrading aviation infrastructure to international standard in line with the seven-point agenda of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua (GCFR)”.

Assistant Secretary-General of Airline Operators of Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammed Tukur has criticised the attitude of Arik Air, describing the action of the airline as ‘confrontational and inciting’, adding that the government reserves the right to give anybody any facility to develop for the betterment of the traveling public.

Tukur stated that the carrier was plunging itself into a dangerous terrain, not considering the multi-billion naira investment it has in the sector, adding that the firm will do well as an airline operator, rather than a terminal manager.

Tukur, who brandished a copy of the signed agreement to transfer the GAT to Bi-Courtney under a legally binding and certified agreement said the workers’ and Arik’s agitations were ‘baseless and unfounded’, adding that rather than take the issue personal, he urged them to embrace government’s desire to improve infrastructure under the PPP arrangement.

He argued that government does not have the fund to develop infrastructure, hence the idea for the PPP scheme.

The committee, he further stated, had also noted media reports on the threats by Arik Airlines to suspend its services if the Federal Government eventually hands over the GAT2 to Bi-Courtney Nigeria Limited.

Arik had stoke the fire when on Thursday last week, its counsel, Assam said that the said directive would, if it actually exists, be entirely in consonance with the character of the person of the Attorney General and his role in the “illegal expropriation tussle for the soul of aviation terminals in all of Lagos State.”

The concession contract for the construction and management of the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 between the Ministry of Aviation and Bi-Courtney Limited according to Assam does not include the GAT as a concession area.

He disclosed that the Federal Government had at no time approved the 36-year term claimed by Bi-Courtney and later wangled through the court in judgment.

Assam accused the Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Michael Aondoakaa of acting for Bi-Courtney to “foist on Nigerians, a ruthless, unjust and entirely destructive monopoly such that does not exist in any civilised part of the world under the guise of BOT concession. We understand the nature of that monopoly. We have been victims of some of his fairer aspects”.

He further alleged that in November 2007, Arik Air paid the sum of N160 million for a space in the new terminal, stressing that no space was assigned to Arik.

He explained that no agreement had been executed in respect of the transaction.

But Bi-Courtney has described the claim as baseless, lacking in truth, further describing it as cheap black mail.

A signed agreement by Babalakin and Chairman of Arik, Sir Joseph Arumemi Johnson showed that Bi-Courtney provided and allocated a space in MM2 for the use of Arik Air as a Business Class Lounge at the rent of N80 million per annum, “paying therefore N160 million, being two years rent and another one year rent within the next six months”.

Yar’Adua had amicably resolved the issues concerning the development of the domestic terminal after perusing all agreements entered into, just as he asked the parties to respect the 36 years agreement to run MMA2 and the agreement for Bi-Courtney to develop the GAT.

The Attorney General had averred that on the issue of development of the old domestic terminal, the agreement could only be vacated if ‘Bi-Courtney declined (expressly or by conduct) an offer to develop the terminal under the clause that gave it Right of First Refusal.

The president also added that during the redevelopment of the said GAT, Bi-Courtney should provide the existing operator at the terminal temporary accommodation necessary for continuing operations during this period.

In providing further insight on the matter, Babalakin stated that his firm had already arranged for the movement to MMA2 by Arik since November 2007 commencing with the immediate movement of the Abuja and Port-Harcourt route and other routes gradually and had signed an agreement with Arik for the purpose.

To him, during this period, the development and expansion of the terminal would take place simultaneously.

Following deliberations on the tenure of the concession, the President stated that the actions of then Minister, (Fani-Kayode) couldn’t be the business of Bi-Courtney who entered into a contract with the Federal Government through a serving minister.

The President disclosed that “Bi-Courtney’s 36 year lease cannot be affected by any indiscretion or otherwise of the minister, if one was established”.

Yar’Adua stressed that it was an internal matter within the government, adding that if there was need to communicate with Bi-Courtney after an internal review had been undertaken between the government and its ministers that will be done.

Strengthening the President’s observation, Aondaoaka observed that if a serving minister commits government in an agreement, such an agreement would be binding.

He added that should it be found that there was misconduct by the minister, then legal proceedings can be instituted against the minister, especially, as the directive of former President Obasanjo that the issue be brought before the FEC ‘is not admissible in evidence in a court of law in a dispute between the Federal Government and Bi-Courtney”

Attesting to the claim by the chairman of Bi-Courtney, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Aviation Matters, Captain Shehu Iyal stated that he remembered that the said issues were approved.