After months of wrangling in the aviation industry following the federal government’s decision to cede majority shares of the country’s proposed national carrier, Nigerian Air to Ethiopian Airlines, Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has disclosed how plan to allow domestic airline operators to take the large chunk of the shares was jettisoned by those he personally approached to take ownership of the airline. Sirika spoke in an interview SULEIMAN IDRIS.
A number of stakeholders particularly the various unions said you did not carry them along in your roadmap project, how true is that?
When we rolled out our roadmap, the unions formed the majority of the stakeholders. They were there and there were more than one thousand people on the register that attended one of the stakeholders’ meetings we had in Abuja where we rolled out our roadmap which included concession, the national carrier, cargo airports, the MRO, the leasing company, and so on.
Since then, we have had quarterly meetings in Abuja, Lagos and every single time, the unions have been there. We have been together with the unions and I have met with them more than 20 times as a Minister, and because we are doing a PPP programme which is guided by ICRC regulation. ICRC is a constitutional agency saddled with the responsibility of doing concessions and PPP programmes. We obeyed them and there are two principles driving committees. The project delivery team is the engine house of the activities of concessions. When the national carrier was being cooked, the project steering said we should include members of the unions in one of the committees so that they would be aware of what we are doing from day one. Nobody will say he is not being carried along and no stakeholder in Nigeria today is not being carried along. I have met some prominent Nigerians, people that I have always had respect for because they were ministers even before I was in school and I heard some of them say that they have not been carried along as stakeholders. That is not correct.
We carried them along, to say when we are going to start, we didn’t is unfair to us, and we did it officially at least six times and that was how I earned the name from you the press, Mr. Concession and Mr. National Carrier. How did they come to know about them? Secondly, the ICRC is the first agency in the world by its Act that opens its porter for which activities are uploaded online for which you can access. If you don’t know about it, it is either you missed it or you are lazy to read through.
All of the activities are loaded on the website. Nobody should claim that he has not been carried along and there is Freedom of Information Act. Nobody has ever asked for documents that I denied him. I oblige them. If you said that you have not been included, it is unfair to us. If you ask every contractor including this one (pointing to the contractor for the Lagos Airfield Lighting sitting behind him) and all of the airlines, the contractors, or any one of them that have been to my office to ask for documents that I have denied any of them. That said, I want to appreciate the media for the opportunity to explain. All stakeholders in the country have been carried through the processes.
Of particular note is the complaints by airlines that they were not carried along with the Nigeria Air project?
I heard that the airline owners said that they were not carried along. It is not true. I said to them when I met Max Air, Azman, Air Peace, Ibom, and everybody. I met, and told them to please come and partner in this airline and own it, telling them that it is meant for the private sector. I told the Air Peace chairman to come and invest in this one and one of them said to me that I should make it formal. I said to him that I met you in your own place, met with you and invited you and told him that I have put it in all the dailies as adverts. I also put it in the Economist, on television, and also on the website. How formal can that be? I always beg them to say all you stakeholders are invited to be owners of the airline as private sector people. Nobody will say he was not invited.
A report indicates that some airline operators have gone to court to stop Nigeria Air project ?
I am not aware that anyone is in court. I don’t have any court papers. I cannot see any rational court that will say that it is stopping somebody from establishing a company because Nigeria Air is a limited liability company known to the Nigerian laws in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). If anybody wants to come and invest in that company, there is no law in Nigeria that stops him from doing so. If there are foreigners coming to invest, nobody stops them from investing. You can own a company 100 percent. What would you say to Shell, Unilever, and Julius Berger? These are companies in Nigeria registered by Nigerian law and people are coming to invest. This is what we want. We want Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)
Your proposed demolition of FAAN, NAMA, NCAA offices for the aerotropolis project is causing uproar. Why?
Assuming that is even correct, I wish it would happen tomorrow morning. Is this eyesore what you want as an airport? Aerotropolis is part of the roadmap. Don’t you want a rail link between the old and the new terminal? Don’t you want better structures with cinemas, spars, shopping malls, banks, airline offices, and befitting headquarters in Lagos? Is the chaos around here what you want as an airport? Should we continue to live like this but when you travel to Dubai or Ghana, you come back to say, this is wonderful! Some of us will go to Ghana, take pictures to come and show us by saying see common Ghana and their infrastructure. Is that what you want? Given the chance, I will demolish all the ramshackle facilities in this airport to pave the way for a better airport city. I told somebody that I am going to demolish from Arik/Nigeria Airways, the police, and the Aero Contractors to Bristow and put something that is befitting of Lagos. This is our premier airport.
Why don’t you use the undeveloped land in the airport for the Aerotropolis?
So, the ramshackle headquarters of FAAN built with wood that got burnt twice is developed? These are projects that we are empowered to carry out. We will carry stakeholders along, it is their right to know. We will not do it under the table. I have not been known for that neither is anything that the law does not provide for. It is good to demolish a building to make it better. Nobody should stop us from doing what is good for our industry. Anything you bring new people will resist and it is nothing new. We are human beings. We will serve them better. We will do the right thing. Posterity will judge whether we are taking the right decision or not. My concern is for the 200 million people that decided to vote for us. We will serve them; we do those policies that are good. Let somebody come on May 29 and reverse those things that we have done. We will see what stakeholders will do.
When I came in as Minister from 2015 to 2019, the first time as Minister of State we met some projects at 20 per cent; we met a lot of challenges including the lack of sewage, lack of water and they were in the masterplan of the airport. I wanted to abandon some of the projects but President Muhammadu Buhari asked that the private sector should finish and get back their money. We finished and delivered them 100 per cent. As long as you put in place the mechanism to ensure that whoever comes, then you are guaranteed that they will continue with it. Be rest assured that the mechanism is in place to ensure that whoever comes that nothing happens to them.