Workers from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) paralyzed activities at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos in protest of the federal government’s concessioning of the Lagos and Abuja airports.
Led by their unions, the workers staged a peaceful protest around the airport vicinity and vowed that they would prevent the government from going through with their concessioning plan.
They also alleged that the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had earmarked N659 million for the marketing of the project to prospective investors, condemning the action as fraud.
The workers insisted that the concessioning of the airports is not in the best interest of the Nigerian public and only benefits politicians through their cronies.
The protest started at 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday at Freedom Square and disrupted vehicular movement to the airport. Our correspondent observed that traffic was at a standstill for nearly two hours as workers marched to the General Aviation Terminal.
Addressing the workers at Freedom Square, the General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Olatunji Abioye, said that the workers were bothered by the government’s lack of transparency regarding the concessioning exercise.
He accused Mr. Sirika of having ulterior motives, purporting that all avenues to ensure clarity and transparency in the whole exercise were rebuffed by the minister.
Mr. Abioye also alleged that the minister and his cohorts are planning to establish an aviation university in Abuja, rather than improve the status of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, lamenting that infrastructure at the college has been in a deplorable state for years and has been neglected by the government.
He alleged that Mr. Sirika had planned to spend N659 million on the concession exercise, adding that N125 million of the funds earmarked for overseas travels for Sirika to Dubai and United States.
“About two weeks ago, I received a message that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on his Twitter handle that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the concession of Lagos and Abuja airports. But my VP can’t address us on Twitter because it is not a base to address Nigerians or govern the country. It is not even part of the policies of the government,” Mr. Abioye said.
“This concession exercise is a fraud. If you want to sell Lagos and Abuja airports, all you need to do is to put it on the internet and interested investors will make enquiries, not by earmarking N659 million for the exercise. China is already requesting its part of the $500 million for the construction of some airports in the country and the project is still ongoing. Who will bear the brunt? It is the same FAAN.”
Also speaking at the rally, the president of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Ahmadu Illitrus, said that the union leaders had engaged the minister on the planned concessioning of the airports, but without any tangible response.
Mr. Illitrus noted that the unions’ two members in the steering committee were in the dark about the processes despite their agitations for transparency, but vowed that the plan by the government would not see the light of day.
He specifically said that past concessions in the country had been marred with fraud, pointing to the ongoing concession agreement between Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited and FAAN as one example in the industry.
“We have every reason to exercise fear based on the past experience. Concession of MMA2 is one of the worst we can have anywhere in the world. Nobody can tell you exact tenure of this concession with Bi-Courtney. Nothing is being paid to FAAN.
“I want to appeal to everyone here to be on the same page on this struggle and use every resource available to pursue this struggle. We must negotiate as a union from the position of strength,” he said.
The rally was almost marred when ATSSSAN and NUATE leaderships refused to recognize the new union in the industry, the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), who Mr. Abioye said was not invited for the demonstration.
It took the intervention of other leaders in the unions for the issue to be put to rest.