Nigeria’s Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, in addressing several burning issues in Nigeria and African aviation, gave reasons for the country’s excellent performance in 2017. He also gave hope for the establishment of the national airline for the country to be soon. While speaking with aviation correspondents in Lagos, Senator Sirika also delved into the recent incident involving Dana Air among others. We bring you excerpts of the interview:
2017 Aviation Score card
I think what we did right as far as aviation is concerned is that all those Standards And Recommended Practices (SARPs) of ICAO were followed to the letter. Our pass mark was well above average on security. That of safety, also, of course, was well above global average. We scored from 67 per cent to 97.4 per cent respectively and I believe this is because all those safety critical matters and that of security concerns were addressed progressively by the present administration.
The thing about aviation and the way we think of it is that, we should attend to these issues, because they are the issues that matter. What matters is how safe and secure you arrive at airports, depart from one airport and land at another airport. The things that make that happen are the things passengers don’t see. The passengers are rightly concerned of course, about how beautiful an airport looks like, how very well the air conditioning works is, how well the travellators, the lifts and the toilets are. These are very important, because it is all about passengers and consumers. But more importantly are all those things that will make you arrive at your destinations safely and securely, and we attended to those. And I think that was why there were no incidences or serious incidences at the time within the year under review.
Lufthansa Consortium and National Carrier
What we did was not termination, what transpired, which I explained at the Council very clearly, was that we substituted the Lufthansa Consortium as part of the consortium to provide transaction advisory services for the establishment of a new national carrier and the reason is very simple and clear. We thought that Lufthansa consulting is an arm of Lufthansa Airline group, and we thought this will compromise the process. They may be, later in the day, an interested party in this procurement. We though that being an interested party, they will compromise the system, will compromise the activity which we want to be as open, as transparent, as clear, as fair and as equitable as it should be.
Of course, Lufthansa themselves were not able to accept or sign the contract or accept the offer in writing. They counter the offer that we gave to them after the Federal Executive Council has approved, after the Bureau of Public Procurement has approved and gave us no objection certificate. Later, they introduced new terms. For example, they want an escrow account to be opened outside of the country and all the monies deposited there, even pay more than 15%. They wanted about 75% to be paid to them ab initio. And this is not in line with our procurement laws and the contract was in Naira, N341, 200,000 but they it denominated in Euros, which is also not accepted by us. And more importantly, they wanted to provide the service, only to the limit of the outlined business case, and this is neither in our request for proposal nor in what the Council has approved.
It was impossible for us to continue the procurement with Lufthansa Consortium. What we did since they are many, we substituted them with another company that is even, fair and has no appendage with any other company that might be interested. So, more of neutral companies took over the space of Lufthansa.
Where are we with the National Carrier? I think in the next couple of months, one month to two months maximum, by March, we should be able to have our outline business case for this transaction. And then, the full business case will follow.
I will say that we are very close to having the national carrier established. Certainly, it would be within the first term of this administration.
The issue of Lufthansa Consortium, part of what they required from us for the national carrier was that they wouldn’t be charged any taxes which is against our law.
Nigeria Airways Pension
We’ve dealt with the issue of pensioners. The money is being provided by government, the Ministry of Finance is dealing with it and the National Assembly is also playing its role in that regard. I want to plead with the Nigeria Airways ex-staff. We came in and felt that this is unfair for people who have put in their entire life to serve this country. So, we felt that we should compassionately deal with the matter which we did, and we provided the funding of N45 billion. They should exercise patience; we want to ensure that everybody will get his/her entitlement very soon.
The transaction advisors for the concession have brought in the outline business case. We are studying it and we are going to do our full business case and it would happen so soon.
Single African Air Transport Market
Nigeria is among the first 11 countries that went to Yamoussoukro and took a decision to liberalise the sector and open the sky for Africa and this means growth. This means development. This means more jobs. This means more security, and this means more connectivity. This means more passenger experience and comfort. Now, arising from that and Nigeria, being a signatory to that, the Single African Air Transport Market became the issue and Nigeria also joined to be among the first 23 countries to make that solemn declaration on Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and I think Nigeria with population of 173 million people, half the size of West Africa, would be the greatest beneficiary to this.
At the time Nigeria was pushing for this you and I know we had Nigeria Airways and we thought we would take advantage of it. Now we don’t and our airlines, for one reason or another, have not grown to that capacity, and therefore the government felt that we should set in motion the process to create a robust carrier that would take advantage of this SAATM for the benefit of Nigerian people. So, I believe we are on the right course. I believe that this private sector led, and driven airline, once established, would become the dominant carrier in Africa because the market is in Nigeria. Its centrality to Africa, by its geography, is God- given, it is equidistant to other parts of Africa. And with the market of 173million people, this is a large population and Nigerians travel. So, if you talk of advantage, Nigeria is at advantage position.
As soon as it is signed and the implementation begins, you know that it would take between one to two years before it is fully functional.
Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA)
Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) are good and very important for us especially for the sake of where we are now. We need to understand that air transport connects places, connects markets, connects businesses and connects people, connects cultures, connects countries. And doing that brings tonnes of benefits. To be able to crisscross the world and go to other cultures, other people, other markets, other trading partners and come back, the benefits are unquantifiable. The way to go is to continue to sign these BASAs up to a point where Nigeria would take full advantage of the BASAs themselves. I want to assure you; we cannot sign a BASA that would be skewed against Nigeria. It cannot happen. It is not only the Ministry of Aviation or Transportation, as it were, that does this signing; it involves the airlines themselves. They (airlines) participate in the process and the Office of the Attorney General will vet it and the Federal Executive Council will sit on it. I do not think the Federal Executive Council, led by the President, the Attorney General of the Federation, the airlines operating within the country and other stakeholders and the Federal Ministry of Aviation, including the regulator, the NCAA will all get together and sign something skewed against Nigeria. I do not think it is correct.
SAATM and Nigerian Airlines
The Nigerian carriers were at the forefront of the campaign to respect and implement the Yamoussoukro Decision, at the time they felt advantage. Today, they are singing another song. These carriers are owing all over the place. I am not sure if these airlines are financially healthy, NCAA is conducting audit on all the airlines presently. I do not think the airlines will want the result to go to the public. If I will advise them, they should get their acts together to focus, to re-organise, to re-engineer and take advantage and be futuristic and look at the bigger future and organise themselves and take advantage of the SAATM, rather than sit there and the train is moving and begin to whine.
Look there is an airline that is owing one of the agencies N13 billion. There is an airline that is owing a total debt of N500 billion which is its collective indebtedness of that airline. That airline crashed or at least it is being taken over.
I think they should get their priority right and do a business model that would bring money for them; that is important. Everybody wants to run scheduled passenger flights. There is a lot they can do in aviation.
Under this administration, it is not going to happen to allow them to continue to pile debt and go to the villa and the debts are either waived off or the debts are post- dated. No villa will call any airline. There is no door that is open for that.
Dana Air Incident
It is very traumatising for an air traveller, after landing, to see an emergency door falling inside the aircraft. It can be very traumatising, very uncomfortable and very scary. We reason with them. We agree it is so. We apologise for the mishap, but I want to just explain to those who are non-aviators that because of the way aircraft are built, of that size and of that kind of operations, the aircraft are pressurised and by pressurising, the cabin of the aircraft will force those doors to remain closed in flight at altitude. That’s why the emergency door did not fall in the sky.