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Undercurrents behind takeover of Airport plaza by FAAN unions

By Wole Oyebade
15 March 2020   |   4:15 am
Things may appear alright on the surface, but all is definitely not well at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Access Gate (Lagos Airport Access Toll Plaza), where the reins...

MMI Airport Toll Plaza, Lagos

• I-Cube’s Contract Expired One Year Ago, Unions Insist
Things may appear alright on the surface, but all is definitely not well at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Access Gate (Lagos Airport Access Toll Plaza), where the reins were forcefully taken over by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) workers’ unions.

However, even though the erstwhile concessionaire, Integrated Intelligent Imaging West Africa Limited (I-Cube), has been forced out, reasons for the non-renewal, or termination of contract (after it expired a year ago), and who is now interested in the facility (using FAAN as a cover) are still within the realms of speculation.

Notwithstanding, while the workers’ unions are justifying their forceful takeover of the facility, stakeholders are of the view that the action constitutes a danger to the stakes of private investors in the industry.

It would be recalled that a coalition of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), on February 4, 2020, took over the toll plaza, citing the expiration of I-Cube’s five-year contract agreement since February 2019.

A day after the union took over control of the facility, FAAN formally terminated the concession for toll collection at the access gate of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, with its management (FAAN) saying that the termination was with immediate effect.

The development, which was contained in a letter dated February 4, 2020, and signed by the Managing Director/Chief Executive of FAAN, Captain Rabiu Yadudu, was addressed to the Managing Director of I-Cube.

The letter read: “Kindly be informed that the Authority has resolved to temporarily take over the management of the said Murtala Muhammed International Airport Access Gate with immediate effect to determine the actual revenue generated from the access gate.

“By this letter you are requested to vacate the premises immediately. This is to enable the Authority take appropriate decision on the management of the Access Gate,” the statement added.

Immediately after the takeover, I-Cube instituted a lawsuit against the FAAN over what it termed a breach of agreement and forceful takeover of the facility.

While FAAN officials keep mum on the undercurrents behind the original contract, The Guardian learnt that the development is “a power tussle between some former and the current occupants of the Ministry of Aviation.

“Everything is all about interest. There is a new Sheriff in town, if you understand me, and he has friends that have always been interested in the contract. It is their time to run the facility.

“Even those at the receiving end now know how they came into it, and they should not cry over spilt milk. It is just a matter of time, the whole agenda will unfold,” a top source said.

The unions, who denied that they were pawns in the game of interests involving elite within and without the ministry, insisted that the toll plaza and its operations was their “birth right,” as FAAN workers, which they had been denied all these years.

On his part, the General Secretary of ANAP, Abdulrazaq Saidu, said that the illegal concession of airport services was robbing the government of huge revenue, and work for the workers, as FAAN has a sufficiently trained workforce that is capable of running the facilities efficiently.

I-Cube acquired the control of the tollgate in 2008, and the contract was to last for a period of five years, while the company was to remit N40m monthly to the coffers of FAAN.

After that initial agreement expired, the contract was renegotiated in 2013, and the amount was reviewed to N68m, which the concessionaire agreed to remit monthly.

But counsel to I-Cube, Charles Ebhoman, explained that even though the contract expired in 2019, his client sought its renewal, in accordance with the agreement, but never got any response from FAAN.

Even though FAAN remained tight-lipped and failed to respond to the letter written to it three months to the expiration of the contract in February 2019, I-Cube continued to remit N68m to it monthly.

Stakeholders, who agreed that the government could make more than the N68m monthly from the strategic facility, expressed worry at the forceful takeover, which they insist does not bode well for the sector.

Former Commandant of the Lagos Airport, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) kicked against union members’ interference in operators’ services, saying it should not be encouraged.

He urged that the unions should have channeled their grouse and agitations to agencies and officials of the ministry that gave approvals for such contracts.

“How I wish the unions can show the public evidence of the expected revenue at the tollgate. My personal research on the tollgate shows that an average of 2,000 cars pass through the gate both ways every hour. Allow 15 per cent for staff and non-paying privileged ones, 1,700 vehicles every hour or 25, 500 vehicles in about 15 active hours a day.

“If each vehicle pays N200 each, this translates to N5.5m per day or about N150m per month. The questions to ask FAAN and the unions are: What was in the article of MoU and what is the sharing ratio on the revenue? What was the statistics of traffic that the expected revenue was based on? If the unions have no information on any of these, then they too are only out to have a share in the fat calf,” Ojikutu said.

Secretary General of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Olayinka Abioye, agreed that the unions should not have been involved in the matter “if management was proactive and alive to its responsibilities.

“It should not have been the business of the unions if an agreement between two parties elapsed and one party or the other is yet to renegotiate, except something is fundamentally wrong.

“The unions have the legitimate rights to protect their members’ jobs, promote their wellbeing and so forth, but the challenge we have encountered over the years have to do with insincerity of the management,”he said.

Abioye continued: “From one side of the mouth, you are told that staff welfare cannot be adequately addressed because of paucity of funds arising from the failure, reluctance or issues from their concessionaire partners. Unions, as partners would wish to help management as much as possible so that the system does not collapse, but along the line, something goes wrong and unions are blamed. Why so?

“I sympathise with I-Cube’s management over this sad episode, but its only dialogue that can solve the matter between FAAN, I-Cube and the unions,” Abioye said.

A member of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), a think-tank group of the industry, Olumide Ohunayo, who agreed that the unions should protect the interest of their members, condemned the forceful takeover that they carried out.

“The unions can do their jobs within the ambit of the law to settle issues. They should also show some courage by getting their management and ministry that signed it in the first place to do the needful. That action will save all concerned.

“Genuine investors don’t want to touch investments involving governments because they usually require patronage to get by initially, and most times get really messy when the government in power or person leaves office, especially if the patronage is not extended.

“Truth be told, the process of granting the concessions and agreements ab initio are not always transparent and until we return to the norm to save the industry, the broom that was used for the first wife is also waiting somewhere for the new bride.”