Airways, airports and the aviation minister (1)

Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria.

Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria.

Benin airport runway. Photo; pwlimited

Benin airport runway. Photo; pwlimited

THE Airport is usually an eloquent testimony to the town or country one is to visit. Lagos Airport is a disgrace to the country and the approach roads are an even greater disgrace. Airports need men with great vision who can build a futuristic edifice that would stand the test of time. The roads leading to them are usually well laid, some airports have 10 to 16 lane highways leading to them.

Lagos Airport must be one of the worst located airports in the world. The ministers of Aviation have (with one exception) been of pedestrian intellect, unable to see beyond self in the administration of the ministry and FAAN. Lagos airport is as horrible as Kaduna is; Enugu, despite all the money spent there, is still an eye sore; Port Harcourt and Kano are a disgrace to be called international airports; Sokoto, Maiduguri are still unspoilt for energetic vision. Asaba Airport has part of the vision necessary for an airport; Calabar was improved by the untiring efforts of Donald Duke. Owerri airport is an eyesore, etc.

Sometimes during the administration of President Obasanjo some document was produced by Captain Iyal and the then minister of Aviation to the effect that the Federal Government would undertake the building of 23 Airports but that six international airports would be concession off to competent bodies. In Fact the Abuja Airport was put up for concession, the IFC was the adviser for this concession and an international consortium won the bid for the concession of the airport.

As usual, FAAN and the ministry realised they would lose revenue from the concessions of the airport, which was cancelled and another Minister of Aviation undertook to build the 23 regional airports and to develop six international airports; Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and two others. The minister of Aviation, Captain Yal and a large contingent of FAAN officials went round the world signing bilateral notes of intention as to the development of airports. One such country visited was Germany which has Lufthansa as its flag carrier and Frauport as the agency of Lufthansa for airport development.

The minister came back and was waving these signed papers as a binding agreement between Nigeria and Germany. The paper, this so called “memo of understanding” was no more than a list of areas of desirable co-operation between the German airline and the Nigerian counterpart. As I understand it, treaties between countries are signed by the Presidents of both countries and in Nigeria must obtain the approval of the National Assembly.

This notwithstanding, our minister was moved to tell us about the bilateral agreement between Germany and Nigeria; in real diplomatic terms that no such agreement existed. The next thing we heard was that Frauport had been incorporated in Nigeria on the 10/05/2013 with RC No 1114151.

The purpose we understand was for Frauport to manage and run three of our major international airports namely Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos on behalf of FAAN or perhaps on behalf of the newly formed companies (Aerotropolis Projects Limited based in Lagos with RC No 1114088 coincidently registered on the same date as Frauport 10/05/2013 and Aerotropolis Development company Limited Based in Abuja with RC No 1114148 and also registered on the 10/05/2013) who are owned by individuals unknown except for one Jacob Mark head of Legal for FAAN. Interestingly FAAN was allocated 15% or 15 million shares in both these companies. What was the purpose of these companies? Were the assets or ownership of these companies to be transferred to these companies? Was the BPE which had the privatisation of FAAN on its list aware? Are the management or Board of Frauport aware of this new entity in Nigeria and what are the terms of this agreement? Can the minister of Aviation unilaterally transfer 85% of FAAN? Now we understand that LSG the in flight catering company of Lufthansa is coming into Nigeria under an agreement with a Nigerian company called and having less than Naira one in paid up capital! But under the past ministers becoming the major purveyor of foods in all our major airports and building the fouth in flight catering unit in Lagos compared with the catering units at Heathrow who have 10 times the passengers in Lagos. All this under the so-called “memo of understanding.”

Whilst this matter was still hot, our Minister went off to China to sign an agreement for China to build a new International Airport in Lagos, another new International Airport and Local Airport in Abuja, a new international airport in Port Harcourt? Meanwhile work has been abandoned in the existing airport in Port Harcourt – its arrival wing is non-existent; the extension of the wings in Lagos and the top floor hotel and airline lounges along with brand new imported furniture are rotting and abandoned. Last week the world of aviation declared Port Harcourt as the worst airport in the world. Not only is the arrival wing abandoned, an elongation of the arrival apron had also been abandoned for over seven years. How much does all of this cost Nigeria and how are we to pay for it? I would have thought that projects of this magnitude would seek popular support and the support of the National Assembly.

There is no one in FAAN who knows what the Chinese are doing. Normally you would do a study to include airline and service providers requirements to ascertain the future requirements, the drawings, and plans through construction etc so that FAAN would know what is going on and be able to service the airport when the Chinese have left. FAAN doesn’t know; the National Assembly doesn’t know; the Central Bank doesn’t know; how can one person impose such a burden on Nigeria? Is it possible that some of the bodies mentioned above know? How will we pay for these projects? Even if they were gifts from the Chinese government, are we not expected to thank them? But should we not know what we are thanking them for? The last time an issue about Chinese construction came up was when Dr. Okonjo-Iwela was asked how much we were paying for the railways the Chinese were building. Her reply was that the Chinese contractors and the Minister of Transport worked in concert with the Chinese and bills were sent to the Minister of Transport for approval and payment (or added to our bill). It is a good thing that Dr. Okonjo-Iwela is no longer our Minister of Finance because based on her reply alone, she doesn’t qualify for the job.
• To be continued tomorrow.
• Dr Patrick Dele Cole (OFR) is Nigeria’s former Ambassador.

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