Where is N22 billion out of the N27 billion approved for bail out of the aviation sector? This matter was hush-hush until recently when the media brought it to the village square. The money, it would be recalled, was meant to cushion the effect of the coronavirus pandemic that shook Nigeria and its air transportation system to the core.
Airline operators, in particular, and other service providers had complained that no local carrier would be strong enough to survive for long facing the post COVID-19 challenges.
Propelled by such dire prediction, the federal government approved the sum of N27 billion for the revamp of the sector.
Of that sum, the ministry of aviation in its wisdom, decided to share out N5 billion among the domestic carriers and other service providers, leaving the balance of N22 billion.
Who got what?
It was gathered that the ministry of aviation set aside N3 billion for scheduled operators, N1 billion for non-scheduled operators and ‘briefcase’ airlines while the remaining N1 billion was shared among ground handling companies, catering services, travel agencies, aviation fuel marketers and airport cab operators.
It was also gathered that of the N3 billion allocated to scheduled operators, N75 million was paid to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as 50 per cent of the 5 per cent deduction from the debts the scheduled operators owe to the agency.
Both the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) got N37, 500,000.01 each as 25 per cent of the 5 per cent deduction from the debts of the scheduled operators to the two agencies.
Business aviation operators paid N49, 999, 990.90 as part of debts owed to FAAN, NAMA and NCAA.
Undeserved operators also got a slice of the cake!
The money was meant to keep passenger airlines going but it was found that ‘portmanteau airlines’ which are no competitors in the airline business also got something. These are airlines that do not even own a fuselage or aircraft wing except valid air operator certificates. Their owners are chairmen/chief executive officers of rested scheduled airlines or charter carriers.
Meanwhile, Ibom Air was excluded from the largesse because the ministry felt that the airline being state-owned should not be funded from the federal purse.
Where is N22bn?
The issue begging the question is the whereabouts of the balance of N22 billion after deducting N5 billion from N27 billion.
The minister of aviation had hinted that the N22 billion would be spent on “aviation roadmap” which observers believe has not been clearly charted. The roadmap, it is believed, contains the controversial national carrier which never took off despite the glamorous launch of its logo at Farnborough Airshow, London on July 18, 2018.
“What is roadmap and why has the national carrier project failed?” they ask.
Analysts are concerned that if the money is not utilised now, nobody will account for it after the present administration runs its full course in 2023.
Recall what happened between late Prof Babalola Borishade and Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode on the disbursement of N19.5 billion approved for intervention in the aviation industry following three air crashes that occurred in quick succession between 2005 and 2006.
These were the October 22, 2005 crash of Bellview Airlines Boeing 737 which killed all 111 passengers and six crew; December 10, 2005 crash of Sosoliso Airlines DC9 on landing at the Port Harcourt Airport, killing 106 people, half of them schoolchildren on their way home for Christmas and the ADC scheduled passenger flight that crashed on October 29, 2006 killing all 114 persons on board.
While Borishade said he did not authorise the withdrawal of a dime from the fund before his redeployment on November 7, 2006, Fani-Kayode claimed that N8.5 billion had been spent from that sum adding that he saw N11 billion when he took over as minister in November 2006.
By the time Mr. Babatunde Omotoba became minister of aviation in 2008, he claimed to have met only N3.5 billion.
Commenting on the raging N22 billion controversy, the chief executive officer of Westlink, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia said he was unaware of the N27 billion released by the government. However, he said everything about the intervention fund was kept under wraps.
“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,” he said.
On the money shared given to scheduled, non-scheduled and sundry airlines, Mshelia said his company was not given a farthing alleging ‘man know man’ in the sharing of the money.
“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 why I have not received and when I will receive it,” he said.
Similarly, the chief executive officer of Tropical Arctic Logistics (TAL) Helicopter Company, Mr. Femi Adeniji, said he had not received a kobo although the name of his company was published as one of the would-be beneficiaries.
“I have tried. I have called the federal ministry of aviation. I have four helicopters that I operate. They asked us to send account numbers, which we did.
Unfortunately, I was in the US when my company’s name was published among those who will receive the palliative, but we have not gotten anything up until now.
“They said they were going to give it to us. Salaries are still being owed, the staff is 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. Why give some airlines and not give the others?” he said.
Adeniji added: I understand they got N25 billion from the government and they are giving us N5 billion. Even at that, why give some airlines and not give the others?
Also reacting to the ‘unaccounted’ N22 billion, the chief executive officer of Centurion Security Services, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (retd) expressed concern that the federal government had kept mute on the matter.
However, he said whenever the money is released should be invested in the procurement of some critical safety equipment at the major airports.
He called on the minister to be clear about the disbursement of the fund.
“We have been talking of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Runway 18L lightings, so are the lightings of the runways of most airports. Yet we are claiming satisfaction in the Nigerian 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 ATCs communication to be addressed, so are the periodic maintenance of the navigation aids, radar and others.
“Quite a lot has to be done at the new airport terminal buildings, but the revenues are not coming because of the COVID-19 lockdown; the revenues are not coming because there are no flights and government aviation staff cannot earn salaries.
“We need to know how much the government is earmarking for the six agencies in the aviation ministry. How much is earmarked for the new ‘national carrier’. We need to know,” he said.
House of Reps steps in
Worried by the opaqueness in the handling of the total intervention package, the house of representatives resolved to demand detailed disbursement of the fund from the ministry of aviation.
The chairman, house committee on aviation, Mr. Nnolim Nnaji, who announced this however said the investigation was not a witch-hunt but to clear every doubt over the disbursement.
“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.
“The committee was quite aware of the challenges facing the industry due to the COVID-19 impact and the genuine concerns expressed by its Minister, Sen. Hadi Sirika, on the need for Federal Government’s palliative to the industry.
“Some airline operators, have however, complained that despite being asked to submit their details which they did, up till date, there have been no response from the ministry.
“There was also allegation that the ministry carried out selective disbursements and that the exercise lacked transparency,” he said.
What will be the outcome of the lawmakers’ probe? The nation waits with bated breath.