Since her assumption of office as the Minister of Aviation, Mrs Stella Oduah-Ogienwonyi has taken some bold steps that have been viewed differently by aviation experts and other stakeholders in the aviation industry. But the one that has continued to generate so much controversy is the imbalance in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
The Chairman of Arik Air, Sir Johnson Arumeni-Ikhide had cried foul in his petition to the Presidency and the National Assembly, alleging that his airline had been denied the required number of slots on Abuja-London Heathrow route in line with the BASA.
He explained that the Arik Air, Nigeria’s flag carrier was granted 12 weekly frequencies as against 21 weekly frequencies being enjoyed by the British Airways as enshrined in the BASA, leaving the Nigerian carriers with a shortfall of nine frequencies.
Irked by this development that has lingered for too long the federal government decided to wield the sledge hammer by restricting British Airways to three weekly flights on Lagos – London route.
But the British Airways has argued that BASA is a deal between two countries and it is not a party to such agreement. One salient aspect of BASA is reciprocity as some experts have stated. The question therefore is, has there been fare deal on the part of the British government.
According to some stakeholders in the aviation industry what Arik is passing through is informed by the demise of Nigeria Airways. For a long time after the liquidation of the Nigeria Airways there was no Nigerian airline that operated on the busy London route. They argued that the protracted absence of the Nigerian Carrier affected the allocation of slots as specified in the BASA.
But the Minister of Aviation has maintained that the air pact between the two countries must be reviewed. Speaking through her Special Assistant (Media), Joe Obi, she said “as controversy surrounding the reduction of British Airway’s slots into the Murtala Mohammed International Airport rages on, it has become imperative to make certain clarifications as issues are being muddled up for various reasons, some certainly bordering on selfish interest and agenda of those making the insinuations.
“While the Minister of Aviation maintains that Arik Air, a Nigerian flag Carrier has not been fairly treated by the sudden denial of slots from Abuja into London Heathrow, the main issue at stake here is not about Arik Air, but about the need to respect the spirit and the letter of BASA, which is predicated on the principles of equity, fairness and reciprocity.
“Those who argue that the fate of Arik with the regard to the loss of its slots into London Heathrow was a consequence of purely independent, commercial decisions by ACL, which is in charge of slot allocation into Heathrow are missing the point, if not entirely mischievous. The British authorities are under obligation as far as BA is concerned to ensure whatever independent and commercial decisions are taken by its corporate citizens do not infringe on bilateral agreements.
As a fall-out of the negotiations between the two countries over the issues arising from the imbalance in the BASA the federal government last week rejected the 20 per cent fare reduction offered by the British Airways.
In a statement issued to journalists on this matter, the Special Assistant to the Minister on Media, Mr. Joe Obi said government considered the offer as insufficient as other West African countries were said to be paying less to travel the same distance to the United Kingdom.
“With respect to the high fare charged by the British Airways and the associated regional imbalance, the airline made an offer of a 20 per cent reduction in the lowest business class fare.
“The Nigerian side considered this as insufficient. The Nigerian government is still very concerned about the regional price disparity. We believe that this regional imbalance should be dismantled. In other words, BA should offer the same and similar fares from Nigeria to the UK as it is the case in any equivalent distance within West Africa.
He noted that the British authorities had assured to carry out independent study of air fares in the region to decide on the next offer.
Obi also disclosed that Arik Air had been granted seven slots weekly on the Abuja – London Heathrow route at prevailing commercial rates.
In less than five months in office the Minister of Aviation has shown that she is committed to repositioning the aviation sector as she did promise. Naturally, we do not expect every Nigerian to applaud all her policies and programmes. But what is more important is the result that will be achieved at the end of the day. Without mincing words, the minister deserves the commendation of Nigerians for standing up to the British authorities in the face of obvious disregard of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement between Nigeria and the United Kingdom. Aviation is a global business, and international best practices must be observed by stakeholders without let or hindrance. By her action, the Minister has been able to address the issues of slot allocation to Arik Air which was primarily the bone of contention and the regional price disparity.
The Minister, it appears is on the right track. All she needs now is the support of the stakeholders in the aviation industry and Nigerians in general to implement the transformation agenda of the present administration in the aviation sector.
COVID-19: Arik Airline Sacks 300 Staff
At least 300 staff of Arik Air have been relieved of their appointments by the airline’s management.
This was announced in a statement by the airline on Friday.
It blamed the sacking on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
The press statement was titled, “Arik Air management declares 300 staff redundant”.
The company explained that a redundancy package would be provided for the affected workers with the help of the aviation unions.
The statement read in part, “Arising from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the constrained ability of the airline to complete heavy maintenance activities and return its planes to operations, stunted revenues against increasing operational costs, the management of Arik Air (In Receivership) has declared 300 staff members redundant to its current level of operations.
“The leadership of the impacted unions has been contacted to negotiate a redundancy package for the affected staff.”
The airline added that over 50 per cent of its workforce of over 1,600 staff have been on furlough in the past six months.
In a separate statement also forwarded to our correspondent by its Public Relations and Communications Manager, Banji Ola, the airline apologised to passengers whose travel plans were disrupted by the protest carried out by the National Union of Air Transport Employees on December 3, 2020.
The picketing disrupted operations in Lagos and prevented the airline from processing passengers at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Domestic Terminal 1 and 2.
S’East Leaders Laud FG Over EndSARS
South-East leaders on Saturday, lauded the Federal Government on the matured and responsive manner it handled all issues relating to the EndSARS protest and agitation.
The leaders of the zone, which included Governors, Senators, House of Representatives members as well as traditional, religious and youth leaders, gave the commendation in a communiqué issued after their meeting with a Presidential delegation in Enugu.
The presidential delegation was led by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who is the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“We thank President Buhari for the speed and restraint with which he handled the EndSARS protest, which has engendered peace throughout the country, especially the South-East.
“We, therefore, request the President to look into demands of various groups and youths with a view to resolving them,’’ the statement, which was read by the Chairman of South-East Governors’ Forum, Governor Dave Umehi, said.
It also called for joint operation by security agencies and local vigilant groups into all forests in the zone to flush out criminals and killer herdsmen with AK47 rifles.
“But we pledge our commitment to continuous coexistence with peaceful herdsmen who have been living peacefully with us.
“We stand for an indivisible and united Nigeria, built on love, fairness, equity and justice. We believe that under this platform – NIGERIA; we are bigger and stronger,’’ it said.
It also called on the Federal Government to continue its support and diplomatic push for the former Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to be elected as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The statement thanked the Federal Government for the timely interventions in Akanu Ibiam International Airport rehabilitation as well as intervention in road infrastructures in the zone.
“We are grateful for the attention given to the second Niger Bridge and completion and inauguration of the Zik’s mausoleum.
“However, we urge the Federal Government to give attention to the completion of the current road projects within the zone,’’ it said.
The statement said that the states in the zone will provide money for the compensation for those affected by the EndSARS protest, help to rebuild police stations and their logistics; while engaging the youths constantly to forestall any violent development in the zone.
“We have plans to set up various empowerment programmes to gainfully engage the youths. The governors also plan to mainstream the youths in their governance to give them a sense of belonging.
Minister Hails Meeting With S’East Leaders
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has described as “extremely fruitful” the meeting which a presidential team had with leaders and stakeholders of the South-East.
“The meeting of the presidential delegation with South-East leaders was very useful,’’ Mohammed told journalists on Sunday in Enugu.
The delegation, led by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, met for more than eight hours in Enugu with selected South-East leaders.
Mohammed said that it was quite instructive that all the groups which took part in the meeting believed in the unity and oneness of the country, pointing out that they clearly spelt out this in their presentations.
“We listened clearly and carefully to all the positions and demands and we are going back to report directly to President Buhari,’’ the minister said.
He noted that the Federal Government had been spreading development and infrastructure to all parts of the country, simultaneously and equitably.
“We want the South-East people to be confident that the Federal Government is spreading development and infrastructure to all parts of the country equitably and will never marginalise any zone in the ongoing development and infrastructure agenda.
“This is what I want to assure Nigerians living in the South-East,’’ Mohammed noted.
According to the minister, when the team gets back to Abuja it will see what can be done immediately concerning some of the positions and demands made by the South-East leaders.
The presidential delegation met with South-East governors, statesmen, elders, religious and traditional leaders, as well as market women and youth leaders.
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