AVIATIONLINE: GIVE US YOUR VIEWS ON MULTIPLE TAXATION
OWOLABI: Thank you. You remember before I left as MD of SAHCOL the issue of multiple taxation had died down. After I left, there was no month, there was no day, either the Minister or whoever or the MD of FAAN, will not say one thing or another on this. I was not taken very clear and very clear and straight forward. The way people have been taxed at that airport is very disastrous. You go back to a lot of your interviews. It is disastrous. I give an example: you expect a Handling Company to pay 5% of the total profit without tax at the end of every year. This means that whatever equipment, whatever staff, whatever you do, I want you to understand me very well, total percentage, which is 5% of your total earnings without tax, you have to pay it to FAAN. FAAN, in return, will tax you for your equipment at the airport. The equipment you’re using to get that profit or to make that money. Can you see that FAAN too, will you for your Identity Card. FAAN will tax you for Toll Gate, FAAN will go round again and tax you Ground… what do they call it, Ground…; total payment for the year for having their land, Ground Rent. So, tell me, how do you want them to survive? I have been shouting it that it is unethical and unwise for people to have about six or eight taxes and at the end of the year they still expect you to pay 5% of the total. Because all these things I mention, they are the driving factors. The equipment that doesn’t even leave the airport. You don’t take this equipment; the equipment that load and offload, do you see it anywhere? And if you see the amount of tax being paid on these equipment, believe me, you will be shocked. Yet the federal government says they want safety and security to be paramount. These are the areas; that is why I’ve been saying these taxations are too high. Not only that, the fuel, the Jet, the Jet something. That is why you see a lot of the airlines, moving out. Everyone is moving out as the hub to Ghana. Once we raise our own fuel something (price) here Ghana reduces theirs by the same percentage. So it makes sense for any of the airlines moving from Lagos to make a stopover in Accra and then move. You are only looking that it is only fuel they’re picking in Accra. If you watch, if you go to Ghana these days you see a lot of beautiful hotels springing up around the airport there. I don’t understand whether any of you has ever gone to Ghana to see these things that are happening there. They’re taking their crew out to Ghana and what does that mean to you? Whatever foreign exchange the crew needs to buy things they will rather buy it in Ghana. Because we’re only looking at the Jet A1 fuel or is it to pick up only fuel there? No! It is affecting our infrastructural set up here as the hub. God has given us that map. He has positioned us. Are we really acting as the hub? Are our airports designed to meet up as the hub? I don’t know whether conveyor belts are really working well now.
AVIATIONLINE (Interrupts): THEY (CONVEYOR BELTS) HAVE BEEN REPLACED AND THEY ARE WORKING
OWOLABI: I want to assure you, as they’re doing this, they’re heaping it on the passengers. Because there is no way they will not like to make a profit. That is why you have all these foreign carriers making it here. And you know Nigerians, the way we are; we prefer to go by foreign airlines which are always on schedule. Ours merely pick the crumbs. That’s one. And you want the local operators to survive. How? All multiple sectors are given out. In the United States of America, I am sorry to continue to make comparison because that is where things are done properly. Before an airline can make inroad to another destination, it has to be in conjunction with a local airline. You have to parley (interline) with one of the local operators. Yes, that is how it is done. You can see recently we’re reading the correct thing in the papers that the airlines are not going to Kaduna because they don’t have partners. Some of them even came out to say that they don’t have domestic carriers that they could partner with. Are we saying we don’t have domestic airlines in this country? I was expecting somebody to raise that issue with the airline making that insinuation. Or when we drop passengers at Johannesburg, is that the last destination of the people that go to South Africa on Arik? No! They are going beyond. And yet it is their local flights that will that will take them. I am not saying that we cannot make our sky open but when you make it open to make it open politically and diplomatically to be able to ensure that your local operators are indeed protected to the best of their ability. How many airlines, since the closure of Abuja Airport have approached Medview or any other airline? Oh, we will like to partner with so, so, airline to take our passengers from Kaduna to other local destinations. Rightly, it (that is, Medview or any other indigenous carrier) would be ready to do so. Such airline would time its arrival, may be one hour or 30 minutes before or after the arrival of the foreign airlines to those destinations. We have other airlines. We have Azman Air. We have some of these airlines that can do so. Have they approached them? Even when our own domestic airlines approach them they don’t even want to buy into the idea. They even say it in the papers. You can imagine what that means to you. To me, it’s a slap on our face to say you cannot partner with our domestic airlines. In those days when Nigeria Airways was still flying; those, those days when there were no multiple entries, we partnered with all these airlines on the domestic routes. When certain things have to happen in a country it has to have the backing of the government. If anything is to happen in the United States of America today, forget whatever President Trump has been doing, but you will remember about two or three weeks ago or one and a half weeks ago, you heard him calling all the CEOs of all the airlines. What do you think he’s trying to do? I’m sure he’s trying to discuss with them to find out their problems so that when he is rolling out his policies he knows they can guide him. That’s the reason behind the discussions. With all the teething he had it’s a good thing he’s discussing with airlines. He has tasted out of it too. You know there was this FOX Airlines before; it packed up. He has some ideas why it packed up. Calling them is for him to be able to have the idea he has for him to be able to see how these things can be implemented. Our government has a lot of things to do to support the local operators. It’s not only when they’re good alone. There are other areas to allow them to grow because they go to the same market. They have the same reach; they are not being given…. though some of them have a way of getting some money. But do they really invest it in the sector? Do they check? Did NCAA check the amount collected? Did they really buy aircraft or bring in spare parts or what they said they would buy? Nobody is checking. They just got the money and off the money went. These are the areas the government should help.
AVIATIONLINE: WILL YOU ADVOCATE A MERGER OF THE WEAK LOCAL AIRLINES?
OWOLABI: Thank you. I have been a very strong advocate of some of these local airlines merging together to be able to be stronger. In my words I’ve always told them (the local airlines) that when you merge you become stronger. But with our mentality in Nigeria they wouldn’t accept it because of ego. Our mentality is such that the issue of name to be borne by whatever airline that emerges may be difficult to resolve. ‘’It’s going to be Owolabi. No, it is James. No, my wife would not like it. It’s my brother that wouldn’t like it.’’ With this, are we really ready to have business relationship with ourselves? Are we? Not only in the airlines but in the country itself. By the time you look at those who call themselves business partners, by the time you look at the AOC or what do you call it? The Memorandum attached to those agreements; if you see them you marvel; what their limits are. What their limits are not. They are not really in the body of their agreements. Whenever the Minister invites them to stakeholders’ meetings, certain decisions have been taken before coming to such stakeholders’ meetings. Take for example the issue of Kaduna International Airport; from day one by trying it at all, why wouldn’t you call a stakeholders meeting? I give you an example. The Honourable Minister who was once a member of the House is alive. At least he can bear me witness. I was the only one, when those airports were being refurbished/remodeled, I said, Ma, at least, for once, I give you kudos. All the Ministers that have been coming, they don’t have the gut to do these things. I said, Ma, I am happy for you, I give you kudos, as a woman. For 35 years the things that have been here over the years, must have a facelift. But Ma, the facelift has to come after the internal structures have been set in. What do I mean by that? The air conditioners, the lifts, the conveyor belts, the Arrival, etc. What happened in New York, go to LaGuardia Airport. Before the airport took its final face as it is today, from day one they started from internal structures getting these things set. After they finished with the internal; it’s like you have something bogging you in your stomach. When you take water it goes inside your system and it comes back. What you’re now saying is that, no, you block here when you continue to prove to me that you can go round it and continue to look good. It’s not possible. It will wipe off. I told her. I said, Ma, the only problem I have with this set up is that. I am saying this, Ma, because you’re here today, tomorrow for those who will be there, they may start something else. It is better for me to say the truth, whether you will like it or not.’’ Nobody crucified me. And today what I said should be done first before the second one is still there and they are still battling with it. When you want to remodel or refurbish or whatever, even in your house, do you start from outside? No! You have to look at your toilets and everything; the infrastructural aspects, etc. It has been there for 35 years, so it needs changes. When you finish that, if it’s quite working well, then you can come outside and cover it. That is what is done in Accra, that is what is done in John F Kennedy, Airport, that is what is done in LaGuardia, in Cairo, in Ethiopian Airlines in Addis Ababa. Go there, you see these things happening. Why must we not do that? You’re having a new model together with the old one. I want to see how the old model will fuse into the new model. I am yet to see it how it is going to work. You can’t put an old wine in a new skin.
AVIATIONLINE: WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ABOUT BILATERAL AIR SERVICES AGREEMENT (BASA)?
OWOLABI: We need to ask them why they cancelled the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA). That is where we generate revenue to maintain a lot of things at the airport. That is what we use to send our officials for training. Who scrapped it? Why did they scrap it and the royalty, and for what? It is supposed not to be cancelled. We don’t have the airlines to reciprocate the ones coming here; whereas you’re having seven or eight flights a week while you cannot even afford to have two or three at those destinations. The agreement is that you either reciprocate or some royalties must be paid if you are at advantage. Who is collecting that and how do we use it?