‘No quick fixes for aviation infrastructure gap’

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There are no quick fixes to avaition’s infrastructure deficit, Bi-Courtney Group Nigeria Limited Chairman, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), has said.

At a panel discussion in Abuja, with the theme: Focus on Nigeria’s Aviation Sector, Babalakin said infrastructure deficit was a deliberate arrangement by  the government.

According to him, “If you’ve been doing the same thing for 63 years and it has continued to fail, doesn’t that tell you that there is something wrong with the system? It is a systemic failure that is all encompassing.”

Babalakin, whose firm, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), developed and runs the Murtala Muhammed Airport Two (MMA2), on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) 36-year  concessionary period, said government institutions should begin to honour their commitments to investors.

“If you go to countries that investors are competing to come into, it is because of the sanctity of contracts. Yes, you may say you don’t agree with a transaction, but you signed.

“You have to wait for that transaction to lapse before you can alter it, or you have to pay substantially for trying to alter it. If we don’t have a system that makes an investor believe he can look at a 20-year run in a transaction, why should he come in and invest heavily? If he is coming in, then he’s just coming for a quick fix. Infrastructure cannot be sustained with quick fixes.”

He advised that if public officials have issues with agreements signed by previous administrations, dispute resolution processes should be explored.

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On the takeover of Arik Air by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), he said, “I won’t sit down here and join in criticising Arik. Arik would have its own issues but the system indulged Arik. The system overlooked all the breaches of agreements of understanding and allowed it to compound the problems until a stage when they could no longer tolerate it.

“You should ask the regulators these questions: When did Arik begin to breach agreements or processes? How long did they take to respond to those breaches? When did Arik stop paying the dues it ought to pay? How long did it take to respond to those issues? What was done to ensure compliance? It’s a systemic failure.”

Speaking on the aviation Bailout fund, he asked, “What were the terms of the ailout fund? Who was responsible for the monitoring of the bailout fund? When did it crystallise? What action was taken immediately? If all these were not done, then it was a bonanza. The government set out to ensure that it did not succeed.”

The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who was also on the programme, said there was no effort in the past to improve the sector. He promised that the government would work with the private sector through concessions in a transparent and efficient way to improve aviation infrastructure.

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On the plan to shut down the Abuja Airport for repair of its runway next month, Sirika said it was necessary in order to prevent accidents and ensure safety.

The minister also said the government would establish a national carrier that would be private-sector driven, noting that Aero and Arik failed because of impunity.

An aviation lawyer, Mr. Pekun Sowole, agreed with Babalakin that there was an institutional failure and placed the blame on the government.

To him, the government was 80 per cent responsible for the collapse of many of the airlines. “We have refineries that don’t work. There’s no aviation fuel and we know what percentage that takes in the operation of an aircraft. With all the numerous charges the government places on these airlines, they can’t cope. Invariably, they will collapse,” he said.

On incessant delays and cancellation of flights without notice, Babalakin said passengers do not seek redress from the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) because they had been disappointed many times in the past.

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