Obiora Ifoh, Abuja
Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation, stated that the Federal Executive Council approved a sum of $352 million for Air Nigeria’s transactional advisory fees for its Consultants.
The federal government has threatened to sanction any airline found selling tickets in foreign currency.
The Minister made the announcement on Wednesday, following the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Sirika also stated that the federal government has a responsibility to protect Nigerians and threatened to sanction any airline found wanting.
He denied reports that the Nigeria Air project had already devoured N14.6 billion in government funds despite having only a five percent stake in the airline.
According to him “government has only spent N651 million (N352 million and N299 million) for what he called transactional advisory services approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), but yet to be disbursed as the consultants were yet to finish their work.”
Sirika, while giving update on Nigeria Air, said “So Nigeria Air is of course, we are going to come very soon to council for approval of the full business case. And the activity is a Public Private Partnership, which is guided by the ICRC regulations, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission.
“We have diligently followed that. And I want to seize the opportunity to say that we have been reading newspaper reports, especially those that I have maximum respect for like the Guardian, which put out a sensational article on the front page. That the federal government of Nigeria has spent N14 billion on national carrier and they did nothing.
“This is absurd. This is unbecoming of a paper of that caliber, to dish out lies on purpose to mislead the public. The entire amount of money spent on national carrier is around the transaction advisory services. And we came here with a memo with approval, which we dished out to the press as to the quantum of money to be spent. It was N352 million in today’s rate. And another contract of N299 million.
“We have project delivery team in place by law, Project Steering Committee in place by law, and they’re all members of very many ministries and agencies and parastatals including Labour.
“The Law didn’t say we should include Labour. But for maximum transparency, for fairness, we included Labour in this activity, and they participated fully.
“So there’s nothing secret about it. If you want anything come and ask us don’t just be pen lazy and go out there and write what you want. It is not accepted by us and by government. And they will deliver this Nigeria Air for the benefit of people.
According to him, “We have directed the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to monitor all the activities of the Airlines and sanction anyone found selling ticket in foreign currency”, adding that “We need to protect our people”
He also berated foreign airlines using the social media as mean of expressing their challenges adding that “ They should stop using the social media, if they want us to respond to their issues. They must go through diplomatic channels if they want response from us”
“They should desist from putting things on the social media.
Sirika, while also speaking on the various road maps embarked upon by his Ministry, disclosed that the road map were done through Public, Private Partnership( PPP), adding that their results will manifest
He also revealed that the planned concessioning of some of the airports were nearing completion stages , adding that “ they will soon come to Council within the next three to four weeks.
Sirika revealed that information at government disposal, shows that some of the airlines are refusing to accept the Naira and have resorted to charging their ticket fares in dollars in violation of the country’s laws, while some others have blocked local travel agencies from accessing their websites for transactions, choosing to release expensive tickets.
“I want to use this opportunity to say that reports are reaching us that some of the airlines are refusing to sell tickets in naira. That is a violation of our of local laws, they will not be allowed. The high and the mighty amongst them will be sanctioned, if they’re caught doing that.
“NCAA had been directed to swing into action and once we find any airline violating this, we will definitely deal with them. Also, they blocked the travel agents from access. They also made only the expensive tickets available and so on so forth.
“Our regulators are not sleeping, we have a very vibrant Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Once they found any airline guilty, that airline will be dealt with because we need to protect our people. It is according to our agreements, to what we have signed and this is according to international convention.”
Sirika, while urging the airlines to desist from doing things outside of the law, added that the foreign airlines made over $1.1 billion from Nigeria in 2016, when the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration cleared the $600 million it inherited from previous government.
According to Sirika, “ these airlines had remitted over $600 million to their home countries in 2016 while over $265 million has also been released this year out of about $484 million due to them.
“ We are doing all that we can to keep the airlines happy by ensuring that their money does not pile up again, because the country needs their services, the airlines need the Nigerian market.”
In another development, The Minister of information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will do everything possible to ensure a free, fair and credible 2023 General Elections, noting that recent elections has shown clearly that the President is committed to a transparent democratic process.
Responding to calls for President Buhari, to withdraw the names of some embattled nominees for Resident Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission, said to be members of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), Lai Mohammed explained that the government would rather allow due process to take effect.
According to him, Buhari will not withdraw the names based on “social media trials”, urging Nigerians to allow the process take its course, including the imminent screening of the REC nominees by the National Assembly.
Buhari, had in July, sent the names of 19 INEC REC nominees to the Senate to be confirmed.
Of the 19, five were reappointed for a second five-year term while 14 others were new appointees.
Nigerians have criticized the nomination of some individuals believed to be card-carrying members of the ruling party.
A coalition of Civil Society Organisations noted that the nominee from Sokoto State, Northwestern Nigeria was an APC governorship aspirant in 2015 while another nominee for Enugu State is allegedly a younger sister of the APC Deputy National Chairman, Emma Eneukwu.
Similarly, the CSOs alleged that the nominee for Imo State, Mrs. Pauline Ugochi, who is a former Head of ICT at INEC in Imo is known for conniving with politicians to undermine elections while the nominee for Ebonyi State, Mrs. Queen Agwu, was suspended on allegations of incompetence and corruption in 2016.
The CSOs called for their immediate removal from the list, premising their argument on Section 14(2a) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states that “a member of the commission shall be non-partisan and a person of unquestionable integrity,’ and Section 14(3b) of the same Schedule which states that “there shall be for each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, a Resident Electoral Commissioner who shall be a person of unquestionable integrity and shall not be a member of any political party.”
But responding, Mohammed said, “As to the nominees that are being challenged by social media warriors and by some critics, I don’t think it is the business of the President to immediately throw out the nominee based on allegations which have not been proven.
“I think the whole idea is that these people will go for confirmation in the National Assembly, the same questions that are being raised in the public domain will be asked there.
“I think this media trial is quite worrisome. Because even when these people are cleared of any wrong doings, nobody comes back to apologise to them. So, my advice is, yes, there’ll be allegations against anybody. It does not mean that that fellow is guilty. Let’s wait for the process to be completed.”
The information and Culture Minister also allayed the fears of Nigerians about the issue of fuel scarcity which has resurfaced in some parts of Abuja, saying government was already responding to the issue.