Airways, airports and the aviation minister (2)
• Continued from yesterday
THE president must inquire into all these kinds of contracts – their actual prices; who really owns them and how much we owe in projects. Are we paying for these projects with crude oil allocations? Nigeria is not some basket case country where these ministers can sign up huge debt with no recourse to the minister of finance, or the Attorney General or the Central Bank of Nigeria. The constitution of Nigeria does not allow it to have more than one account – The Federation of Nigeria Account, to which all moneys and from which all moneys flow. Of recent, accounts have been opened for all manner of things because there is no sanction for breaking this provision about a single Federation of Nigeria Account. The main reason for this provision is to put all finances under the minister of finance but if she/he doesn’t prevent the multiplicity of accounts – (NNPC has at least five accounts) then she is not doing her/his job. I remember when General James Oluleye was Minister of Finance and I carried instructions from Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo for payment of one thing or the other. The General looked me in the face and said there was no provision for that item; even if there was, there was no money.
I took my instructions back to OBJ who murmured something to the effect that he knew, took my paper and shredded it. A popular game we played in those days was to write a beautiful memo but at the end, we added the fatal words that there was no financial provision for the item. Once the president of the council saw that the memo was stood down, there was no duty concession although the law clearly permitted the head of state to do so. I didn’t see one duty concession from 1976 to mid-79. The head of state simply believed that this was a privilege he wasn’t prepared to grant or exercise. What is the role of the Minister of aviation? There are several competing interests in the ministry.
The minister’s role is to minimise the friction these competing interests may entail, to make the airport and airline work like a Swiss watch; always to place the interest of Nigeria at the top of its priority. That interest maybe to privatise parts of its empire at the best price but always to bring satisfaction to the passengers who are his principal clients; he must ensure that flights meet their schedules; that every asset of his ministry is to be protected from occasional raids by other ministries and industries. He is the first face of Nigeria and must present the best we have as first impression. He is also the last memory of Nigeria as visitor’s depart. He must keep an eye on the prices and ensure that air fares remain within the means of Nigerians; in short he must press continuously for lower airfares. He must scour the world and find out how other nations can compete with low fares. Why is Nigeria paying the highest fares for international flights in the world? He must respect himself and resist cheap blackmail usually starting by cheap tickets for himself and his family. Is the minister to sell the nation’s silver? He must increase profitability so that a national carrier, fully self-financed, can be seen in every airport in the world, carrying the Nigerian flag.
The Air Force should move out of the airport. It doesn’t make sensible security for the Air Force to remain there. Nine C130 were left on the tarmac in Ikeja for years: they rotted and their carcasses were removed to be replaced by a better version C140 which is now parked in the same place on the tarmac. The personnel of the Nigeria Air Force live next to the airport. No serious country leaves their Air Force in the same place as its civilian planes. It is ridiculous to have an Air Force barracks in Victoria Island, Lagos and God knows where the planes or fighter jets will be to fly from. The same goes for the Army: the Port Harcourt battalion, the Bar beach towers, Lego barracks etc: all these are vulnerable targets of our enemies. As for the airport, much money has been spent to little effect on the outward face of the airport especially Lagos. But when one goes inside – behind the façade – the filth, the dirt, the smell, the 19th century condition must be seen to be believed: unpainted walls, cracked rubber tiles, cracked plastic tiles, filthy toilet, grim and oil, the loading bay is a thieves’ paradise; a general atmosphere of unprofessional conduct pervades this back section.
The minister of aviation while keeping prices low must also ensure a continuous flight. These have been done in the UK, the whole of the Far East, Brazil etc. The confusion about several flight fares for the same flight must end. The exorbitant taxes taken by the Federal Government for flights must be reviewed. The 2000 naira stamp tax put on flight ticket is probably illegal. It should be part of the flight ticket. Such stamp duties collected in cash is a temptation to FAAN officials, who have never given the public an account of such collection. I started this piece by asking for 10 to 12 highway lanes leading to our airport; instead FAAN collects 300 naira per car at a toll gate which people use as a short cut to other parts of Lagos. That road should be expanded to 6, 8 or 10 lanes solely for use within the airport. Parking spaces should be provided. Who owns the new multi-storey car park being built at Lagos international airport? If a minister has to travel, there is no need taking 12 cars to the airport and parking all at the kerb of international or local airport. A separate VIP entrance should be provided for these gods on earth so that we earthlings can without hindrance, come and go. What is that building in the middle of the old car park in Lagos Airport? I understand it is owned by a former minister and now a bank. Is there a better reason for demolishing it? The minister must protect the fledgling industries that the airline encourage, not kill them and benefit from their deaths. The banks are happy to donate trolleys, why should we not have free trolleys like Ghana, Benin, London, Dubai, Nairobi, Togo, Freetown, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc?
• Dr Cole (OFR) is Nigeria’s former Ambassador.