The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, yesterday, promised it would sanction foreign airlines selling tickets in dollars to Nigerian passengers, emphasizing that the action violates the country’s law.
Hadi revealed this while addressing reporters after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting headed by President Muhammad Buhari, in Abuja, at the Presidential Villa.
He said the aviation administration has received reports that some foreign airlines operating in Nigeria are refusing Naira and insisting on selling tickets in dollars, while others have denied local travel agencies access to their websites.
Hadi said the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) officials have been charged to secure the interest of affected Nigerians, adding that the violators will not be handled softly.
He said, “That is a violation of our local laws. They will not be allowed. The high and the mighty among them will be sanctioned if they’re caught doing that.
“NCAA had been directed to swing into action. And once we find any airline violating this, we will deal with them. They blocked travel agents from access. They also made only expensive tickets available.
“Our regulators are not sleeping. We have a very vibrant NCAA. Once they find any airline guilty, that airline will be dealt with because we need to protect our people. It is according to our agreements; what we have signed, and this is according to international convention.”
He further stated that “They should also desist from writing us and putting things on social media. They should go through diplomatic channels if they want a response from the Federal Government.”
Hadi noted that foreign airlines have made over $1.1 billion from Nigeria since 2016, which could have been secured in the country if they were local airlines.
He recalled that the airlines remitted over $600 million to their home countries in 2016, while over $265 million out of about $484 million was also released to them this year.
He said the Government is doing everything possible to keep the airlines happy and assuring that their money does not accumulate again, including that it will be a win-win situation if everything proceeds well because the country needs their services and the airlines also need the Nigerian market.
The minister refuted an allegation that the Nigeria Air project has expended over N14.6 billion of government funds, despite having only a five percent investment in the airline.
He clarified that the government only spent N651 million (N352 million and N299 million) for what he referred to as transactional advisory services approved by FEC, but yet to be paid, as the specialists are yet to complete their work.
Including that, “There’s also accusation as to secrecy in what we’re doing. Nigeria, I’m very proud to say, is the first country, and perhaps the only, to put up a portal where all public-private partnership activities are being uploaded on daily basis. People should not be pen lazy, not research, and not ask questions given the Freedom of Information Act.
“Every single query to me on my desk, using Freedom of Information Act, I have always obliged. There’s nothing secret about government work anymore. And we’re not keeping anything in secrecy.”
Meanwhile, travel agents under the auspices of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents (NANTA) kicked against the plan by the government to sanction foreign carriers, disagreeing that the carriers were not selling tickets in dollars as alleged by the minister.
Susan Akporiaye, President, NANTA, said, “the minister has forgotten that the same Central Bank of Nigeria has placed restrictions on our debit card, if there was no restriction on naira debit card that is how people would have been buying tickets; but because of that restriction we can’t buy it like that.
“This means people will have to go and get a dollar card and load it. That is why it looks as if foreign airlines are selling tickets in dollars. So he has forgotten the policy that was made and that policy is biting us now.
“So if he goes to look for airlines selling tickets in dollars, he won’t see them because they are not on their website. Good luck to the minister if he finds any of them. Technically they’re not selling in dollars.”
However, it can be recalled that Dr. Harold Demuren, the former director general of the NCAA, had previously urged the Federal Government to give access to foreign airlines to sell tickets in dollars as it would help the foreign airlines recover their funds and ease their operations in Nigeria.
Nigeria Holds $783 Million in Blocked Funds, IATA Engages with Government for Resolution
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that as of August Nigeria holds approximately $783 million in blocked funds belonging to various airlines.
This significant financial concern was communicated via an official statement released by the trade association.
Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA’s Regional Vice-President for Africa and the Middle East, has been actively engaged in discussions with the Federal Government in an effort to find a resolution to this pressing issue.
Foreign airlines operating within Nigeria have faced ongoing challenges in repatriating their commercial revenues due to a prolonged shortage of foreign exchange in the country.
The official statement from IATA stated, “Mr. Al Awadhi also held discussions with Nigeria’s newly appointed Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, the Honorable Minister Festus Keyamo. During these discussions, he urged the new government to maintain and strengthen consultations with the industry while developing both short-term and long-term solutions to address foreign exchange access issues for both domestic and foreign carriers.”
Highlighting the severity of the situation, the statement said, “As of August 2023, Nigeria accounts for $783 million of airlines’ blocked funds.”
According to the statement, IATA commends the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for its commitment to enhancing infrastructure and service standards at Lagos’s Murtala Muhammad International Airport within a twelve-month timeframe.
In related news, IATA had previously raised concerns about safety, security, and passenger service levels at Lagos Airport in the past year.
A recent high-level meeting between IATA and FAAN, represented by Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer Kabir Mohammed, concluded with FAAN committing to expedite improvements in these areas as part of a corrective action plan.
Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA’s Regional Vice-President for Africa and the Middle East, said, “We welcome FAAN’s commitment to upgrade Lagos Airport, which serves as a vital domestic and international hub connecting Nigeria to the rest of Africa and beyond. This strategic focus not only strengthens the aviation sector but also acts as a catalyst for Nigeria’s broader economic and social progress. IATA is ready to provide support and expertise to FAAN to ensure that international standards are met through the corrective action plan. Safety, security, and efficient infrastructure are crucial for a well-functioning air transport system, as is the ability of airlines to access the revenues they generate in Africa.”
Federal Government Reopens D Wing of Murtala Muhammed International Airport
In a bid to address the escalating flight disruptions and enhance the efficiency of air travel, the Federal Government has officially reopened the D Wing of the old international terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.
The move is part of a broader effort to tackle the challenges faced by both travelers and airlines operating in Nigeria.
This challenge emerged following the sudden relocation of foreign airlines from the international terminal of the Lagos airport to an adjoining new terminal that opened in March.
The announcement of the reopening of the old international terminal, which had temporarily closed for renovation, was made by the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Festus Keyamo, on Monday.
According to a statement signed by the Director of Public Affairs & Consumer Protection at FAAN (Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria), Abdullahi Yakubu-Funtua, Minister Keyamo emphasized the government’s unwavering commitment to improving the aviation sector and ensuring passengers enjoy a seamless travel experience.
The statement reads in part, “We are pleased to inform the traveling public that Hon. Minister of Aviation, Mr. Festus Keyamo, has graciously permitted the use of the D Wing of the Old Murtala Muhammed International Terminal to complement the New International Terminal, aimed at facilitating the smooth movement of passengers through the airport.”
Minister Keyamo had originally ordered airlines to relocate to the new terminal starting on October 1, 2023. However, FAAN took the initiative to forcibly relocate the international carriers to the new facility on Wednesday.
The sudden relocation by FAAN coincided with a fire incident that occurred in part of the baggage hall of MMIA on the same day. This incident compelled the agency to evacuate passengers and personnel from the facility.
In response to the situation, Mr. Abdullahi Yakubu-Funtua, the Director of Media at FAAN, stated that the airport fire and other developments affecting power supply had necessitated the abrupt relocation of foreign carriers. He assured the public that FAAN is actively addressing the situation.
The utilization of the D Wing for passenger processing has already commenced, promising improved travel experiences for all passengers.
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