Gbajabiamila, Emiefele, Sirika make case for Nigerian airlines and for Nigerians

Femi Gbajabiamila, immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives,

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila said in Abuja on Monday that Nigeria would enforce its Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA)

BASA is an agreement that provides for civil aviation certifications to be shared between two countries.

Gbajabiamila made the declaration at a roundtable with aviation stakeholders and top government officials to resolve trapped foreign airline’s funds of 700million dollars in Nigeria.

The roundtable was also set up to thrash out the issue of visa ban on Nigerians by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The speaker said there was the need for all stakeholders to shift ground in the interim, but that in the long run, the solution is to implement BASA agreements.

Gbajabiamila said government would make efforts to, at least pay half of the trapped funds by the end of 2022.

This, he explained would allow Emirates Airline of the UAE to return to status quo and the alleged UAE visa ban on Nigerians to be lifted.

“Even if we clear the backlog, we will still run into these issues for as long as the BASA agreement of reciprocity is not respected because we will continue to accumulate.

“If BASA is respected, Nigerian airlines will reduce the deficit going to the foreign airline, so there is no running away from that and we will enforce that,’’ he said.

Gbajabiamila said national interest should always be on the front burner, adding that if the visa ban was connected in any way with the trapped funds; that would be the most nauseating thing he ever heard.

The lawmaker said it was important to resolve the issues as failure to do so would tantamount to “cutting your nose to spite your face’’.

“We will in the long run, sit with the government of UAE and let it know that Nigeria is not a country that you can toy with.

“I know that there are ways where Nigeria has upper hand on them; the doctrine of reciprocity is not confined to the issue at hand.

“It can be defined in a broad term and that is what I want the government of UAE and indeed any other country to realise. National pride and sovereignty are two important things. What they wouldn’t take, they should not dish out,’’ he said.

In his submissions, Governor of the CBN, Mr Godwin Emiefele, said since 2016, the bank had always accorded priority to foreign airlines to repatriate their funds.

He stressed that the bank accorded extreme priority to International Air Transport Association (IATA) in the allocation of foreign exchange.

Emiefele recalled that because of the recession of 2016, he informed the airlines that there would be delays in the repatriation of funds while assuring them that their monies would not be lost.

“On a particular day, I took a decision to allocate 265 million dollars to foreign airlines.

“On that day, we allocated 322 million dollars to IATA through UBA; Qatar Airways got 22.8 million dollars through Standard Chartered Bank.

“Emirates Airline got 19.6 million dollars through Access Bank; British Airways got 5.5 million dollars through Guaranty Trust Bank; Virgin Atlantic Airline got 4.8 million dollars through Zenith Bank,’’ he said.

He noted that the problem was the issue of not granting Nigerian Airline opportunity to fly into other countries with which the country has BASA.

He stressed that disallowing Nigerian airlines the opportunity to operate foreign flights was chocking the country.

“When you allow Nigerian airlines to fly into other countries, they charge in naira and that is what we expect foreign airlines operating on Nigeria to do.

“But under the BASA agreement, every penny that the foreign airline sells in ticket must be converted to dollars and taken away.

“But if Nigerian airlines charge in naira, it does not have to convert to dollars and so that naira sits here; that is why we are saying countries with which we have agreement must respect BASA.

“You cannot be landing 21 flights into Nigeria and you do not allow any Nigerian airline to land in your country.

“And when the Nigerian airlines land, you intimidate them with sniffer dogs and do not allow them to carry out maintenance checks,’’ he lamented.

Emiefele stressed that such attitude was making life difficult for Nigeria and it also meant taking advantage of a country with the largest population, largest economy and market in Africa.

The governor said that part of the money had been paid and that more funds would be released to the foreign airlines at the end of October.

The CBN boss said what was happening in the aviation sector was a global issue, adding that the global outlook was darkening due to deepening global slowdown.

He said that in line with the principle of globalisation, it was expected that countries would work together, but that unfortunately, de-globalisation was going on as countries were thinking about themselves alone.

The governor said the same issue was playing out in the aviation sector with regards to the demand of the foreign airlines.

He said that more than a third of global economy was in recession and that rising unemployment and inflation was hitting the global economy, while growth was on the decline.

According to the governor, global financial market had become very difficult.

He stressed that de-globalisation, the Russia-Ukraine war, inflationary pressure, the China slowdown which is now in the negative, could spell disaster for most countries in 2023.

In his remarks, Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika said Nigeria, with a population of about 215 million highly mobile people would not succumb to threats.

Sirika said that he expected the foreign airlines to understand when Nigeria is in a difficult situation given the amount of money they make in Nigeria and should not threaten to shut down operations.

“If you disagree, we expect that you come to us and we negotiate and we give you what we have in the hope that we finish paying; what I have problem with is threats.

“Every country; every airline will threaten Nigeria. We will not fly to Nigeria again; we are not giving Nigerians visa; we won’t do our operations; we will shut down Abuja and Lagos,’’ he quoted the other countries as saying.

“Please countries have been shut completely and they did well, there are examples in Asia, the Middle East and even Europe; we are not afraid of being shut.

“It will help us to do better; our school and hospitals will do better; we will begin to go to our own hospitals and to our own schools.

“If you shut down Nigeria, it does not make any sense and we are not threatened,’’ he added.

In his submission, Deputy President, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) Mr Allen Onyema, the Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace Airline, noted that Nigeria is the largest market for the international airlines.

He said the foreign airlines had gained a lot from Nigeria over the years and this was not the way to payback in Nigeria’s difficult times.

He said that UAE visas local airlines applied for through agents had been turned down since last week.

According to him, those still flying to the UAE are those who have existing visas, all others have stopped flying and by Oct. 28, Air Peace, too will pull out.

“At any point in time, we expect these foreign airlines to respect our country and not to arm-twist us for their benefit.

“Africa has been the whipping boy for everybody and this has to stop no matter the price anybody has to pay.

“It is time to speak up against this evil; it is not good; we expect them to reciprocate what Nigeria had been to them all these years,’’ he said.

Onyema said that the solution to the issues of trapped funds would be to reduce the frequency of foreign airlines operations and grant equal opportunity to local airlines to operate international flights.

The Country Representative of IATA in Nigeria, Mr Samson Ifatokun acknowledged that the CBN was doing its best to resolve the issue of trapped funds.

He said, however, that the foreign airlines needed some form of assurance and a roadmap on how the balance would be paid.

Ifatokun said that the position of the speaker would be communicated to the foreign airlines for their consideration and final decision. (NAN)

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