Sirika’s selfish moves to concession airports, By Yemi Adebowale

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika has spent almost all his eight years in office implementing selfish agendas. Almost everything in the Nigerian aviation industry revolves around Sirika and his interest. This minister cares less about the interest of the larger Nigerian society. It is usually about Sirika’s pocket. This is why he has been pursuing the concession of Nigeria’s four major airports to private firms with so much vigour. With about two months left of his tenure, our aviation minister is unrelenting.

Sirika is proceeding with the concession plans, a self-serving and anti-Nigeria project, despite logical opposition from virtually all stakeholders. In October last year, the minister announced the preferred and reserve bidders for three out of four airports, claiming that it was in line with the 2005 Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act and global best practice. The preferred bidder for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja is Corporacion America Airports Consortium. ENL Consortium was selected as the reserve bidder.

The preferred bidder for Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, is TAV/NAHCO/Project Planet Limited (PPL) consortium. Sifax/Changi Consortium was selected as the reserve bidder. The preferred bidder for Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano, is Corporacion America Airports Consortium. There are no reserve bidders for MAKIA. Sirika further said the Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA) did not receive any proposal at the deadline for submission of interest.

The concession process has not been transparent. For example, the Outline Business Case (OBC) was prepared since 2017 and only made available in August last year after every aspect of the deal had been concluded. Also, the transaction advisers on the concession refused to consult with the committee set up by the federal government to advice on the project before submitting its recommendations. As the Chairman, FAAN’s branch of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff, Mr. Ahmed Danjuma puts it thus: “The concession is a one-man project by Sirika.”

The concession clearly has several booby traps, outright lies and deliberate manipulation of facts, all aimed at skewing the transaction against the interest of Nigeria. For example, there is no justification for a profit-sharing ratio of 60:40 in favour of the concessionaires.

The federal government has taken huge foreign loans running into millions of Dollars for the modernisation of the four airports, yet, Sirika is planning to give 60 percent of the profit to the concessionaires. If the deal is allowed, the federal government will still be repaying the loans for years, while the concessionaires will be getting the bulk of the profits from the airports. Stakeholders have communicated these flaws to the minister and other arms of government involved in the illogical moves but they have refused to budge.

Now, this is the truth that must be told. With the airport concessioning, Sirika wants to transfer a key wealth of this country (four most viable airports) to his cronies. This is unjust, immoral and a violation of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. Section 16 (10) gives Nigerians a right to prosperity, equal distribution of wealth, equality of status, happiness and non-monopolisation of the economy.

When an airport is concessioned to a private player, the global standard is to enable development of such an airport to world-class standard, proper management/accountability and reduction of government or political interference in the running of the airport. Sirika knows this. If we are talking about having world-class airports in Nigeria, huge foreign loans have been taken to develop the four listed airports to the desired standards. A lot has been done at the four airports in this direction. Some of the projects are still ongoing. The concessionaires will not be making new investment in terminal infrastructure. So, why trying to hand them over to private sector players?

Sirika knows the meaning of Greenfield concession but has chosen to ignore this. With Greenfield arrangement, the concessionaire will acquire a virgin land, build, operate and transfer the airport after a number of agreed years. This will create more jobs during and after construction, and drive competition. If Sirika truly loves this country, this is what he should be proposing to his cronies; not trying to steal existing airports in the name of concession.

Nigeria has failed in the area of proper management and accountability at our airports because of the ineptitude of the likes of Hadi Sirika running the show from the Ministry of Aviation. Sirika, as minister, has (for selfish reasons) made it impossible for good corporate governance and appropriate administration to happen in Nigerian airports. This country has capable hands at FAAN, but the likes of Sirika keep hindering them for egotistic reasons. They are the ones responsible for political interference in the running of our airports.

Some of the best airports in the world are managed by government corporations. The world-famous Dubai International Airport is operated by a government airports authority called Dubai Airports Company. The Emirate of Dubai owns Dubai International Airport. Abu Dhabi Airports is a public joint-stock company, wholly owned by the Abu Dhabi Emirate and headquartered at its principal asset, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH).

The King Abdulaziz International Airport is managed by a Saudi Arabian government corporation called Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA). Nigeria’s FAAN can perform wonders if we have a good aviation minister and a good government. Less meddling in FAAN’s activities is also pertinent. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for several years. The likes of Sirika are providing self-centered and slipshod leadership. This is why Nigeria continues to deteriorate in all sectors.

Sirika’s careless management of preferred bidders for the major airports has so soon become a subject of legal dispute. Just a few weeks back, a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the federal government to stay further action on its planned concession of the MMIA, Lagos. Sifax Group of Companies Limited went to court to challenge the bidding process. While TAV/NAHCO Project Planet Limited was the preferred bidder for the Lagos airport, Sifax/Changi Consortium was selected as the reserve bidder. Sifax in the suit alleged that TAV breached procedures by bidding twice. Nigeria is already in a mess so early in this useless journey, no thanks to Sirika.

It is heartwarming that the leaders of Nigeria’s three aviation industry unions – ANAP, NUATE and ATSSSAN – are battling Sirika over the planned concession of the airports. For the Secretary General, NUATE, Ocheme Aba, the concession project, apart from handing out national assets to Sirika’s cronies, will not favour the workers as it would lead to job losses.

Aba adds: “We call on all patriotic Nigerians to join aviation workers and labour unions to, once and for all, battle to tell our elected leaders that our national assets do not belong to the few opportune individuals in government and their cronies, for them to share and plunder, nor do they have powers to act as they please over national interests without our consent.”

Already, the aviation workers’ unions have dragged Sirika and FAAN to the Lagos division of the National Industrial Court over the airport concession. Aside from labour issues, they are asking the court to rule that Sirika and FAAN do not have the authority to initiate the concession deals without the consent and authorisation of the federal government, the 36 state governments and the 774 local government areas.

Nigerian state governors seem unaware that the states are co-owners of federal assets. As a result, dubious sales and concessioning of such assets go unchallenged. As the aviation unions rightly indicated, the 36 state governments and the 774 local governments should be consulted before any sale or concessioning of federal assets. These governors have failed their people on this issue. Federal assets belong to all the three tiers of government.

Sirika is never seen promoting the interest of this country. He has also become an embarrassment to forward-looking Nigerians over his Nigeria Air project. As at last Wednesday, he was still talking about actualising Nigeria Air. Sirika pretends to be unaware that it is no longer trendy for countries to set up national airlines. The world has gone beyond this. This guy has been flushing public funds down the drain on the proposed airline. I can’t forget how he wasted huge public funds during the Farnborough air show in London in June 2018, just to announce the birth of the airline that has so far refused to take off. It was a show of shame by Sirika because no foreign investor participated at that fraudulent launch in London.

If the amount so far expended on Nigeria Air is revealed, many will be dazed. In countries where public officers are held accountable, Sirika would have been severely punished for wasting public funds on this drivel. Unfortunately, the man that should call Sirika to order, President Buhari is playing along with him because of ignorance and incompetence.

At another point, Sirika started making noise that he had entered into partnership with Ethiopian Airlines; that Nigeria Air will be 49 per cent owned by Ethiopian Airlines. This airline, owned by the government of another country, was offered a controlling stake. So, how can this be described as the Nigerian national carrier? Well, Sirika’s selfish plan with Ethiopian Airlines will also die.

Back to the rubbish airport concession. The preferred bidders for the three airports are expected to be presented to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) by Sirika for approval. I urge the FEC to throw the request out in the interest of all Nigerians. Sirika’s plan is a deceitful and selfish agenda which will plunge Nigeria’s flying industry into further crisis. The man called Hadi Sirika remains a tragedy to Nigeria.

Source: First published in Thisday Newspaper

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