Aviation workers’ unions on Wednesday took to the streets to protest the federal government’s planned concession of four major Nigerian airports.
The unions maintain the position that the plan to concession the airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano is not in the best interests of the Nigerian public, but to politicians using a third party.
The protest of the unions, which started as early as 7:00am at the Freedom Square of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in Lagos, disrupted traffic, throwing the ever-busy Airport Road into a standstill for several hours.
The protesters carried several placards with such messages as “FAAN workers say no to concession,” “Airport concession is being sponsored by beneficiaries of corrupt practices,” “and “What will be the status of the Chinese terminal concession via-a-vis the new concession plan?”
They later took their street action to the General Aviation Terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), to MMA Two and to the international wing of the airport.
Motorists and commuters could not access the terminal for several hours. Driving from the Ikeja Under Bridge to the international wing of the MMA, a trip that would normally take 10 minutes, took over two hours.
Some of the commuters who had flights to catch were seen alighting from their vehicles and walking to the terminal with their luggage in order not to miss their flights.
Men of the Nigerian Police Air Force (NAF) and the Nigerian and Aviation Security (AVSEC) provided security for the protesting unions and ensured the protest did not turn violent.
Speaking on behalf of the protesting workers, the National Organizing Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Augustus Arokoye, noted that the unions and the workers in the industry would continue to protest against “bad concessioning”.
He said that the rally was to sensitize the people and all Nigerians to the sharing of national assets by politicians to themselves and their cronies in the form of either privatization, concessioning or commercialization.
Mr. Arokoye insisted that the unions would not allow the government to go ahead with the plan, stressing that before now, the unions had written several letters to the Ministry of Transport, Labour and Productivity, the National Assembly and even to the presidency without any tangible results.
He vowed that if the government went ahead with the concession, the unions would ensure a total collapse in aviation activities in Nigeria.
“We say no to concession of any kind by this government or any other government,” he stressed. “We want them to know that every national asset belongs to Nigeria. We will make sure that such a plan does not hold and we are prepared to ground activities at all the Nigerian airports. We will make sure airlines do not fly and no one will be allowed to do anything in the sector. We are capable of doing it and we will do it if they don’t listen to us.”
Reiterating that the unions and other sector workers have made their position known to various arms of the government, he said although the politicians claim that the purpose is to make the airports more viable, the bottom line is that they only want to sell the assets for their selfish gains.
“Those ones that they have privatized or sold off, are they working?” he queried. “Where is NITEL, NEPA, and even the national carrier that was liquidated? So, we say no to concessioning.”
Also commenting at the rally, a member of the National Union of Pensioners (NUP), Mr. Austin Ogwu, alleged that the government wanted to sell the airports to Arab nations.
“Our position is that we say no to concession and even, they are selling our assets to Arab nations,” he stated. “We all know what is happening in Arab nations today. We are telling the government that we don’t want another insurgency in Nigeria.
“We are still battling with Boko Haram, we don’t want our security to be compromised. We know the countries they want to sell these assets to and we are saying no. This rally is because of [the] security problem.”