Aviation Minister, Sirika
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…only N5bn released so far
…Aero Contractors, West Link, TAL Helicopters,others yet to receive theirs
…as stakeholders query the use of the N22bn balance

Controversies have trailed the N27 billion COVID-19 palliative fund approved by the federal government for the Aviation Industry.

Airline operators and stakeholders in the Industry have queried both the criteria used for the disbursement of the N5 billion approved by the Minister of Aviation, Capt. Hadi Sirika and what the Federal Ministry of Aviation intends to do with the balance of N22 billion.

Also eyebrows have been raised on the inclusion of the National Carrier in the largess, a project apparently suspended by the federal government.

Timenews gathered that while some airlines have received their share of the N5 billion, some are yet to get theirs three months down the line coupled with the fact that different airlines got different amounts.

It was gathered that West Link, Aero Contractors, TAL Helicopters and a few others were yet to receive their own share of the N5 billion despite several efforts put in by these carriers.

It could be recalled that the global Aviation Industry was described as the worst hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged world economies, with some airlines downsizing and some closing shop; a situation that prompted governments of various countries to rise to the occasion with various interventions as bail out for the airlines and allied aviation companies to remain in business.

The pandemic with its resultant effect of lock-down plunged down economies and businesses with global airlines especially Nigerian carriers already challenged by a harsh operating environment having the most terrible impact.

In Nigeria after much calls and cry by the airline operators and stakeholders the federal government during a Federal Executive Council (FEC) Meeting last year September announced the bailout fund of N27 billion to airlines, agencies, ground handling companies and other auxiliary organisations.

Out of this sum, only N4 billion was approved for the entire operating airlines in the Country and another N1 billion for other companies in the Sector, an amount described by stakeholders as paltry and ridiculous.

Meanwhile, airlines decried the loss of N360 billion during the period of lock-down occasioned by the pandemic and have cried out on the dire need for intervention to curb challenges like staff salaries.

Irrespective of the meager amount approved for the eight operating airlines and lots of charter cum helicopter operators, stakeholders have lamented that the disbursement of the money is shrouded in secrecy and accused the Federal Ministry of Aviation of handpicking airlines to extend the bailout to.

Managing Director of West Link Airlines (a private jet charter), Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, in an interview with newsmen said he did not understand the entire process which he described as a mirage, saying his Organisation was yet to receive a dime from the N5 billion disbursed so far, despite submitting the necessary documents.

He disclosed that they (the airlines) were asked to submit their account and other details to the Ministry of Aviation for the collection of palliative but that at the end it was obvious the Ministry just handpicked those they wanted.

Mshelia argued that a few of them were intentionally exempted from the distribution because they were less in number that did not receive the palliative.

His words: “The whole thing is a mirage. I don’t know what is going on. I have not received. There are some people who have received?

“My office submitted the necessary documents. I am a member of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON). There is no leadership of AON as far as I am concerned because we are already in court.

“The Minister and all the relevant people were served. They said we should submit our account and other details to the Ministry of Aviation for the collection of palliative.

“We wrote to the Minister directly and attention the committee, which was received.”

The Airline Operator said he was not aware of the entire N27 billion released by the government, stressing that everything was shrouded with secrecy.

“I am not aware of this at all, but what I can say is that everything seems to be shrouded in secrecy.

“Nobody knows anything; I know government has given us money and I heard some people have not received. I know other colleagues who have not equally.

“It is obvious the Ministry just handpicked those they wanted. They don’t want to give. It appears that we are less in number that didn’t receive. It is obvious a few of us were targeted.

“Whatever reason, I don’t know. Nobody has called me to know why I have not received and when I will receive it,” he explained.

Also lamenting, Managing Director of Tropical Arctic Logistics (TAL) Helicopter Company, Engr. Femi Adeniji, said he had made efforts at getting his Company’s share of the N5 billion to no avail.

Despite furnishing the Federal Ministry of Aviation with the account details he said he had made calls yet his efforts did yield fruit.

He queried why some airlines were given and some denied, noting that most airlines still owe salaries and therefore need the money to sort out some of these challenges.

Adeniji said: “I have tried, I have called the Federal Ministry of Aviation; I have four helicopters that I am operating. They asked us to send account numbers, which we did.

“Even up to last Friday, I still called them to find out what was going on. Unfortunately, I was in the U.S. when my Company’s name was published as among those who will receive the palliative, but we have not gotten anything up until now.”

He pleaded with the government to make the fund available to them and not just publish companies names in the newspaper and deny them the money eventually.

“They said they were going to give it to us, salaries are still being owed, staffers are complaining. If they say they are going to give us, let them give us.

“They should not put it in the newspapers and nothing happens thereafter,” he pleaded.

“I understand they got N25bn from the government and they are giving us N5bn. Even at that, why give some airlines and not give the others?” Adeniji queried.

Aviation Analyst and CEO, Centurion Securities, Grp. Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), in his own view said if the airlines were getting palliatives to revamp their operations and pay salaries, aviation agencies alike should.

Ojikutu pointed out that stakeholders need to know the six aviation agencies and how much for the new ‘national carrier,’ also stressing that there were more urgent areas of attention in the Industry.

In his words: “If the airlines are getting palliatives to revamp their operations and pay salaries, we should expect same for the government agencies too; for their equipment and staff; how much for these?

“We need to know for the six aviation agencies, how much for the new ‘national carrier’? We need to know.

“So, ask the National Assembly (NASS) Senate and House of Representatives that approved the money and the ministry that is disbursing it.

“We have been talking of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos, Runway 18L lighting, so are the lighting of the runways of most airports, yet we are claiming satisfaction in the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) certification for them.

“There are security issues around most airports perimeter fences that we have not been able to enhance their security in the event of any incursions or invasion especially now that bandits are said to be everywhere;

“There is the Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) communication to be addressed, so are the periodic maintenance of the navigation aids, radar and others.

“Quite a lot has to be done on the new airports terminal buildings, but the revenues are not coming because of the COVID-19 lock-down; the revenues are not coming because there are no flights and government aviation staff can not earn salaries.”

On his part, former General Secretary, National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Olayinka Abioye, said he was not sure the remaining N22bn has been released to the Ministry of Aviation, saying that the agencies were still struggling to get the money from the Ministry of Finance but all the Aviation agencies had submitted their needs, which was mainly on staff salary and overhead.

“The agencies are liaising with Ministry of Finance for the money, but I was made to understand that there were small challenges between the Finance and Aviation Ministries,” he explained.

However, the Minister of Aviation, Capt. Hadi Sirika, claimed that the remaining N22 billion would be expended on aviation road map and national carrier.

“What are these road map and why the failed national carrier project?” stakeholders queried.

Meanwhile, as the controversy continues, House Committee on Aviation has announced that it would investigate the complaints by the airlines on disbursements of the COVID-19 fund.

The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation will look into the complaints by airline operators and other stakeholders on the handling of COVID19 aviation palliative,

The Committee Chairman, Honourable Nnolim Nnaji, who announced this in a statement stressed that the avalanche concerns raised by stakeholders regarding the matter were too weighty to be ignored.

He disclosed that the Committee has resolved to demand from the Ministry of Aviation the detailed disbursement of the intervention fund.

“The essence is not to witch hunt anybody but to clear every doubt over the disbursements. We want to know the detailed disbursements, airline by airline, the parastatals under the Ministry and other organisations,” he said.

Nnaji noted that the Committee was quite aware of the challenges facing the Industry due to the COVID-19 impact and the genuine concerns expressed by the Honourable Minister, Senator Hadi Sirika on the need for federal government’s palliative to the Industry.

According to him, some airline operators had complained that despite being asked to submit their details which they did, up till date there was still no response.

They also alleged that the Ministry was doing selective disbursements and that the exercise lacked transparency and urged the Committee to investigate it.

Nnaji assured that though the House had already adjourned for Easter holidays, the Committee will cut short its break to look into the matter because of the critical role of aviation in the overall economy of the Country.


Picture caption:

Aviation Minister, Sen. Hadi Sirika

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