The Federal Government yesterday suspended the controversial Nigeria Air after billions of dollars had been spent on various aspects of the project by President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Speaking after a facility tour in Lagos yesterday, Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, said the Nigeria Air project stands suspended for now.
Keyamo said that the Nigeria Air project, started under President Buhari, now a legal issue between the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and the former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has been suspended pending a thorough review of the terms and conditions of the deal.
He also announced the suspension of the concession of Abuja and Kano international terminals, saying he would have to go through the project to ensure that interests of all Nigerians are protected.
This was even as he directed all airlines operating from the old Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos, to relocate to the newly built terminal, as the old terminal will be temporarily shut from October 1, 2023, for renovation.
The minister also ordered the immediate demolition of Dominion and EAN hangars cited close to the airport, to pave way for expansion of the new international terminal.
Keyamo said the reason the new terminal is underutilised because of its size and the fact that that it cannot take wide-bodied aircraft. He however said the airlines would have to make do with the new terminal while government procures busses to convey passengers.
“You can see that the complaints of foreigners and Nigerian coming into Nigeria has been with the old terminal. It is an eyesore, yet we have a new terminal built by the Chinese and Nigerians are asking why it is not in use. The simple reason it was designed without a provision for big planes and no avio-bridges that can link the big planes.
“About 60 percent of FAAN revenue comes from the Lagos airport. The Lagos gateway is the first impression you get when you come into the country, the solution is that we must use what we have for now. I am giving international airlines till October 1 to move from the old terminal to the new terminal. We are going to shut down the old terminal and sort out all the issues regarding renovation.
“There are issues with airport concession but for now, I have suspended all of that, including the issue of Nigeria Air. I have given directive to suspend everything until I brief with the president as to what is happening regarding all the noise. I will be looking at all the agreements that were signed to correctly inform him. For now, the temporary arrangements we have is, for the comfort of Nigerians we have to find a way to use the new terminal. Like in many other countries, we have to get emergency procurement to buy big busses and move passengers to where the big planes can stop for both arrivals and departures, so that Nigerians can have some form of comfort.
“The long term plan is that we are going to find a way to build avio-bridges for the big aircraft coming in and that means some of those private hangars will have to go for public purpose. We have to relocate them. If we have to do anything for them, so that we can have a beautiful, functional gateway to Nigeria, then we will do. For now, I am giving them till the first of October to shut down the old terminal so that we can use the new terminal,” he said.
Last year, AON dragged the former minister to court asking the court to stop the national carrier deal and withdraw the Air Transport License already issued to Nigeria Air by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. The AON also claimed that the firm which served as transaction adviser for the transaction was incorporated in March last year and alleged that the company was linked to the aviation minister.
The local airlines further alleged that the ATL issued to Nigeria Air did not pass through the normal security clearance. According to them, the federal government’s partnership with Ethiopian Airlines on the project would send domestic airlines out of business by opening up the domestic air travel market to Ethiopian Airlines.
On airports concession he said four of the nation’s international airports put up for concession by former President Buhari and in May this year, the FG announced that it had successfully concessioned the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.
However, in July, 2023, the House of Representatives asked the FG to put on hold the concessioning of the airports pending the outcome of an investigation by the House. Adopting a motion, the House resolved to investigate the concession of the airports to protect public infrastructure.
A legislator, Kama Nkemkanma, told the House that the most viable airports were concessioned to foreign firms through Federal Executive Council (FEC) resolutions that deviated from due process, public accountability and established laws of the land. He said the airports in Lagos, Abuja, and Kano have remained subjects of controversies due to entrenched personal interests that have undermined the laws.
But notwithstanding the directive of the House of Representatives, the head, of Media and Publicity, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Manji Yarling, revealed that while the Abuja and Kano airports concession projects were nearing commercial closure, that of Lagos airport had been delayed. She also revealed that for the Port Harcourt airport, there was still no investor yet.