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4 months to go: Airport concession, aerotropolis plans yet to fly

By Wole Oyebade
20 January 2023   |   4:15 am
*Delayed to fulfill mandatory protocols, value for money – Sirika Barely 128 days to go, there is a high probability that the planned concession of airports and creation of new airport cities (aerotropolis) may not come to fruition within the shelf life of this administration. The aviation star projects of the Buhari-led administration, like the…

*Delayed to fulfill mandatory protocols, value for money – Sirika

Barely 128 days to go, there is a high probability that the planned concession of airports and creation of new airport cities (aerotropolis) may not come to fruition within the shelf life of this administration.

The aviation star projects of the Buhari-led administration, like the embattled national carrier, have been stuck in bureaucratic protocols despite a recent push by the Ministry of Aviation.

Recall that the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, in 2016 initiated and unveiled the Aviation Roadmap agenda at a twin stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos and Abuja. The “developmental agenda”, aimed at “transforming” the sector, has deliverables like a new national carrier, concession of airports for efficiency, Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility, aircraft leasing company and creation of aerotropolis at major airports. Besides the trio of Lagos, Abuja and Kano airports that last year got designated concessionaires, none of the other deliverables have seen light of the day.

While Nigeria Air is grounded in court, The Guardian learnt that the Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), designated export free trade zone projects and multiple cargo airports nationwide are yet to get concessionaires for reasons not unconnected with investors’ apathy.

A stakeholder in the air cargo business did not see anything concrete happening in the next four months.

“I think the handlers are just buying time. Yes, we all wanted the concession and anticipated it earlier than now. But it has taken forever. The challenge now is that there are project duplications fuelling confusion in the minds of potential investors.

“We want to concession the airports, but we are also inviting investors into export free trade zones in the same airports that are meant for concession. What are we really up to? Don’t forget this is a government that is winding down and investors have to be wary.

“I agree that government is meant to be a continuum but here, there is no guarantee on the sanctity of agreements, which is terrible. That is why there is scarcity of serious investors in the entire project,” he said.

Apparently in disagreement, Sirika, at a bidders’ conference for aerotropolis and cargo terminal development in Abuja, said the project execution was delayed in fulfillment of mandatory protocols for such public ventures.

“Government is committed to the projects. That is why it is taking time because of due diligence as Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) is superintending the process. As an entity regulating Public Private Partnership (PPP), we follow their template so that the public gets the value for money.

“The present administration is not willing to sell public properties but willing to make them better by giving them to the private sector to make them better so that there is value for the money.”

The ministry’s Director of Planning, Research and Statistics, who is also the Chairman of the Project Delivery Team (PDT), Muhammed Shehu, added that the ministry was in the procurement phase for the selection of preferred bidders for the projects.

Another hurdle awaiting the aerotropolis initiative is the lack of buy-in by the aviation workers’ union. Already, there is a plan to demolish former headquarters and annexes of aviation agencies around Lagos airport, to create space for a private sector-led airport city project.

Aviation workers under the aegis of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), have said details of the concession plan and airport city project have shown them as self-serving.

Consequently, the union called on the Federal Executive Council to halt further approvals on the airports concession programme, and indeed any other Aviation Road Map project, pending a comprehensive forensic audit of the projects undertaken up to this point.