The chairman and chief executive officer of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema has expressed the frustration the airline faces to fly to some African countries despite that Nigeria has Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) with those countries, urges the federal government to take steps to protect the local carriers and calls on the local airlines to change the way of doing business and think outside the box
By Ime Akpan
Federal government allows foreign airlines multiple designations
The minister of aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, granted us the permission to fly to South Africa, China, USA, Dubai and some other countries even in the face of resentment from certain quarters. Lufthansa flies from Port Harcourt to Abuja and then back to Germany. Air France flies from their country to Abuja, and then to Port Harcourt, and from there, they go back to Abuja and take off to France, yet they still do another leg from Lagos, it doesn’t happen anywhere else. Turkish Airlines has about four destinations in Nigeria too. Ethiopian Airlines is everywhere in the country. Our government is a gentle one that wants to honour bilateral agreements; that’s why it’s allowing them. But the question is, have these other countries allowed us to come in? The African countries are trying to stop us especially when they think that you are a competitor or you are going to be a very serious one, they won’t allow you.
African countries put a spoke in the wheel of Nigerian carriers
The government gave us the right to fly into other African countries. How many of these African countries have allowed us to come in?
For over two years, we (Air Peace) are only doing Ghana, why? Because other countries have refused to allow us in. Ivory Coast never wanted to answer our request. We had to go to them pleading; they didn’t tell us NO but we later discovered that one particular airline is using them to frustrate Nigerian carriers, particularly Air Peace. They see us as a threat; you need to see what they do to us in other countries. Senegal, up till now, hasn’t come to see our facilities so they could grant us the approval. We have written them severally, the chief operating officer has spent one week there in Senegal. Another consultant also went there; we provided everything they wanted us to provide. They said we should give them our insurance, we gave them. Then, they said our insurance was remaining only three months. For goodness’ sake, if my insurance is remaining three months, am I going to renew for another one year when the other insurance hasn’t expired? We gave them one year insurance but as I am talking to you, they’ve not been here. Cote d’Ivoire is doing the same thing because they want to protect Air Cote’ d’Ivoire.
The chief operating officer represented us in The Bahamas, and when she called me on the phone, I asked her to tell Cote d’Ivoire that I will go to court to stop any airline coming to Nigeria whose country doesn’t want to allow us come in. I don’t care whatever it will cost me. I gave them just three weeks to honour our request or I would go to court to stop Air Cote d’Ivoire from coming into Nigeria. And I wanted to make good my threat. Quickly, they sent for us and approved for us to start coming in. But the next challenge was that if they give you one ground handling service, they charge $4,000. Tell me how you would break even in that kind of harsh environment. They use all sorts of excuses to prevent us. If you are asked to pay $4,000, how many people are you carrying on that aircraft? Meanwhile, Air Cote d’Ivoire has been ravaging Nigeria unperturbed. They come in and do whatever they want, nobody cares. So we want the government to protect us from the hands of the foreign airlines too. So, since they are doing this, let us do the same thing to their airlines and let’s see if they will survive.
Our frustration with Camerounian and Togolese governments
We have gone to Cameroun more than 10 times but nothing positive has happened. It was only Ghana that answered us. We are ready to go into other African countries. We have the equipment to represent this country proudly, but they are not allowing us.
Togo wrote us that they won’t allow us to come in because they want to protect ASKY. ASKY comes into Abuja several times a day, comes into Lagos several times a day, even poaching our pilots because they are having a field day. Togo wrote us that because they had already approved Overland to come into their country, they won’t allow us. And I don’t think Overland has even started going there.
Meanwhile, the same Togo has forgotten that ASKY is doing about four frequencies into Nigeria. So even if Overland is coming into their country and it’s doing only two frequencies, we are supposed to do the other two frequencies so that there will be reciprocity in line with bilateral agreement. But the truth is that they don’t want us to come in because they are protecting ASKY. And if Togo does not allow Air Peace to come in, by the third week of May, I give them up to 21st of May, if they don’t allow us, between 22nd and 25th of May; I will go to court in Nigeria to stop ASKY from coming into Nigeria. I will do it for whatever it is worth. Enough is enough; we have to protect our own.
Foreign airlines are fair-weather friends
Unfortunately, the foreign airlines don’t provide employment for you and me. They take more out of the country and give less to the country. Meanwhile, at any little discomfort, they blackmail Nigeria. Just the little discomfort of relocating to Kaduna, the foreign airlines scampered out of this country. So, I have said it before that foreign airlines are fair-weather friends. And they have been gaining billions out of this country in foreign exchange. But when the foreign exchange issue became turbulent, they scampered, but the local airlines remained to provide jobs for their people.
Need to protect local airlines
African countries set up airlines with Nigeria as a target. Look at RwandAir. How many people are in Rwanda? How many people are in Togo? Because everything they do is geared towards “let’s go and ravage Nigeria.” These people are taking our money, depleting our foreign exchange reserve. So the earlier we support our own, the better. They are not allowing us to come to their country. They come here and have free access. In fact, it’s been approved for them to do Rwanda – Lagos – Accra. But you don’t blame our government. The government is trying to obey bilateral agreements. But what we are now asking the government to do for us too is to hammer them the same way they are hammering us. They are not allowing Nigerian airlines to come in, especially anyone they perceive as being strong.
Air Peace provides more jobs than foreign carriers
The jobs I have provided for Nigeria in less than two and a half years, British Airways has never provided 10 per cent of it in their 80 years of flying into Nigeria; they have not. They should go and look at the statistics. The number of quality jobs I have created for Nigerians and other ancillary effects in the last two and a half years, British Airways has not done 10 per cent of it for Nigerians. So why must we give them a red carpet? They should be allowed to come in, but we also should be allowed to compete favourably with them. They should not be a stumbling block to coming into their country.
Need for Nigerian airlines to brace up and think outside the box
Nigerian airlines themselves should also try to be up to scratch. You don’t want to be in an aircraft you don’t trust from here to China. You don’t want to be in an aircraft you don’t trust from here to UK or US. They must provide standard equipment for international flights. They should also get their heads together; it’s not about patriotism. We also must be able to give them the kind of equipment that somebody flying 12 to 13 hours should be able to relax without issues of blood clotting. You know that blood clotting can kill. So you need to provide the kind of equipment people will like to fly in.