Nigeria’s current infrastructure deficit is estimated to be in excess of $200 billion, Chief Executive Officer, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, operator of the ultra-modern Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2), Capt. Jari Williams, has said.
Williams, who quoted the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), spoke at a conference on privatisation/concession of Nigerian airports held in Lagos last Friday. Consequently, he said sadly, that aviation has not been spared in the wind of controversial concessions, which he said have either failed or have been stalled by government.
He, however, threw his weight behind the planned concession of the four major airports by government. His words: “There are no two ways to save our almost derelict airport terminals than concession. Seeing the way MMA2 is being managed, the immediate past Minister of Aviation had recommended that more airports be taken away from FAAN and handed over to private managers.
“It is good that the incumbent Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, accepted this recommendation without any sentiment or partisanship because it is a brilliant idea; it remains the best way out of the bad situation the country’s airport terminals are in right now.”
The Federal Government had, in the wake of infrastructure deficit in the aviation sector, contracted Bi- Courtney to build an airport terminal under the Build Operate Transfer (BOT) basis seven years ago. Shortly after the reported N35 billion facility was built, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) allegedly placed hurdles on the path of the concessionaire, claiming that it was not sure of the duration the terminal would revert to government, claiming that the deal was skewed in favour of the terminal operator.
Williams also cited the concession between FAAN and Maevis Nigeria Limited to shore up the authority’s revenue base through the Airport Operations Management Systems (AOMS). He said this was a classic case of a concession gone awry, lamenting that this happened after Maevis had invested billions of naira to buy and install equipment for the job at the Lagos airport despite the fact that the authority lost in the court of law.
Also, FAAN engaged billionaire businessman/politician, Chief Harry Akande’s AIC Hotels Limited in a battle of wits over a parcel of land leased to the company to build an international hotel around the international wing of the Lagos airport under a concession agreement in 1988. Despite a court order, officials of FAAN allegedly went physical with those of AIC just to recover the land from the company.
They chased away the company’s workers from the parcel of land and seized their tools. To him, Public Private Partnership (PPP) would permanently solve the myriads of problems confronting the four airport terminals, but noted that for this to be realistic, the ICRC must be strengthened to bark and bite. He stated that practicable conflict resolution mechanism must be put in place to resolve any issues that may arise in the proposed concessions.
Williams further stated that if a Nigerian, Mr. Adebayo Ogunlesi, who owns Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), a private equity firm operating the London Gatwick Airport is getting the British government’s cooperation and support to operate freely, he wondered why the Nigerian government should not consider, support and cooperate with indigenous firms to handle “our airport terminals.”
Williams stressed that that GIP, which manages about $18.7 billion, led the acquisition of Gatwick Airport Limited and had a stake in Australia’s Port of Brisbane. Nigerian firms, especially with experience in airport development and management like Bi- Courtney Aviation Services Limited, he said, must be considered first in the attempt to concession the four terminals.
Concessioning the aerodromes to foreign firms, he stated, will eat deep into the country’s foreign reserve and may be a big threat to the nation’s security and safety as a nation. A former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren said if government goes into this concession without resolving the other concessions, there will be a flurry of litigations.
He maintained that air transport needed to be fixed or dire consequences would follow. Addressing Senator Ben Murray Bruce who had spoken earlier, Demuren said: “We need to fix aviation or Ben, you will be going to Abuja with a canoe. If we don’t others after us will move with camels,” he retorted jokingly. Demuren said: “When government doesn’t keep agreements, they destroy the industry.
Right now we have to be clear on what concessioning is and what we are concessioning, we need to clear them, we need to know. Right now we are still building airports. The Chinese loan airports, they are still building, they have not operated and have not even determined when to transfer so what are we concessioning.”