Aviation: Lawmakers Urge Buhari To Urgently Release Foreign Airlines’ Blocked Funds   

By Elizabeth Chukwuma

 With  barely one month for President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, to hand over power to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and the President-elect on the APC, platforms, Senator  Ahmad Lawan, led upper Chamber of the National Assembly would want  the Katsina state born Nigerian President  to  put the necessary  machinery in motion for the urgent settlement of the huge  debts owed the foreign   airlines’  operators  in the country ‘’to support their operations’’.

The Lawmakers may have been encouraged to make the request to the Nigerian President to use his position to order Godwin Emefiele, the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to release the foreign airlines’ blocked funds to avoid throwing the nation’s Aviation and Airspace sector into trouble.

There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that some of the foreign airlines which had threatened to withdraw their services in Nigeria, in 2022, because of the unsettled debts which was said to have increased to $743 million from $662 as at January 2023, may intensify the demand.

British Airways Scheduled Flight

 The leadership of the IATA, may have intervened into the matter to see that their members blocked funds in Nigeria that had been linked to some of the challenges in the nation’s aviation and airspace sector of the economy were released.

Sampson Fatokun, IATA’S Area Manager and Head of Accounts, West and Central African sub-regions, who was said to have   identified Nigeria as one of the countries in the two regions owning the highest amount of the foreign airlines blocked funds in the world.

 The worry of the  IA TA, officials was that since the amount increased from $450 million in May 2022 to $549 million in December same year, the Nigerian government has not made any efforts to initiate the process of settling the over 20 foreign airlines which blocked funds has  increased  $743 million between December 2022 and now.  

Fatokun, the IATA, West and Central sub-regions, Area Manager, who could no longer take it, was said to have addressed a letter to Hadi Sirika minister of Aviation and Airspace ministry, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, and who in turn was said to have reached out to thePresident, urging him to expedite action’’ to expedite action to settle the outstanding debts owed the foreign airlines  before the handover to the next government on May 29, 2023.

Kamil Alawahdi, IATA, Regional Vice- President, for Africa and Middle East, had said that the Nigerian government has no basis’’ to continually be denying   the foreign airlines’ the right to repatriate their funds back to their home countries’’, noting that ‘’the amount is protected by International agreements in which Nigeria participates’’.

Attempts  to recover  the outstanding huge debts owed the foreign airline in the  most populous Africa country  in 2022,  almost threw  the nation’s aviation and airspace sector into crisis  as, Emirates Airline  suspended its  flight operations in Nigeria.

 The British  Airways, BA,  which could not also take it was said to have followed suit as ‘’ it closed its inventory  on Nigeria in the global  distribution system, GDS’’, thus making things difficult  for the Local Travel Agencies, LTA,  to access their portals to make bookings for their clients  for much of last year. .Alawahdi , the ATA, top official, had said  that the Nigerian government could not have   expected the airlines to fly  if they could not  realise the revenue  from ticket sales.

 Susan Akporiaye, President, National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies, NANTA,   had lamented that  the foreign  airlines had cashed in on the blocked funds from ticket sales by the Nigerian government ‘’to remove  the  lower inventory rates  which used to cost between N200,000.00 and N500,000.00 depending on the route’’. 

She noted that’’ it is only Nigeria  that travelers  are  made to cough out of $2,000  for an economy ticket  and change  the date of  the flight intinerary  for whatever reasons  with about N1.4 million –N1.8 million.  According to her  ‘’all low inventories  were blocked by the foreign airlines’ , meaning that  the country  was at a disadvantage  since the  foreign airlines  have mastered  the art of  exploiting  the forex issue to their own advantage.

 She averred that their action   have crippled their business as  most Nigerian passengers now travel to neighbouring countries of g Benin Republic and Ghana to book their fights instead of patronizing their services.      

The situation was so bad in the country’s aviation and air space sector that that the Nigerian government has no option but to initiate series of meetings with the foreign airline operators aimed at addressing the unsettled debts.  

The fallout of the meeting was that Seriki, the minister of Aviation and airspace, who was said to have gotten approval from the Nigeran President for part payment of the owed huge debts owed the foreign airline operators’, reached out to Emefiele, the CBN, governor, who was said to have released $265 million to themn 2022.

 Indeed, the Nigerian President may have heeded the advice of the IATA, regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East  to authorise  the release  of  the foreign airlines blocked funds  before a serious  damage  is done to the economy as foreign  investors  were said to have started  losing confidence on Nigeria as a country  that the government derives joy  in  blocking investors’ funds and refusing  them from  repatriating their profits to their home countries .      

 Note that the approved release   of $265 million to the foreign airlines in 2022, may have informed why Emirates airlines which had suspended its operations resumed their Passenger scheduled flights in December 2022 and BA, opened its portals for Nigeria LTA, to access and make their bookings for their clients, thus bringing the situation under control.

Senator Bala Nallah, had said that the consequences of the continued blocking of the foreign airlines funds from ticket sales by the in Nigerian government  has made  ‘’heap tickets sale unavailable in the country as obtained in other parts of the world where IATA, has offices.

 The Lawmaker, who could not hide his feelings had said that the foreign airlines have every reason to make the sales of their tickets in Nigeria more expensive for Travellers  to recover their loses. He noted that that their ticket sale could be that expensive because   by the time the  government finally agrees to release the blocked  funds to them, it may no longer be worth the value as taxes and inflation may have eroded into the profit earnings. 

The Nigerian Senator had said that the inability of the Nigerian government to release the blocked funds to the foreign airlines’ to repatriate to their home country would result in the aggrieved airlines which were ale

ady  folding up  and relocating to the neighbourng countries in the West Coast, particular, Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo and Coted’Ivoire, ‘’to further worsen the unemployment level in the country’’.

Recall that Alawahdi, IATA, Regional Vice –President, alluded to the fact if the Nigerian government pushes the foreign airlines to the wall to withdraw their services from the country because of the blocked funds from ticket sales which was increasing operational costs on a daily basis   it would impact on jobs in the country, as many would be laid off which may not be too good for the government.  

Aware of the adverse effect of the rising  foreign airlines’  blocked funds from  ticket sales, on the dwindling economy, Seriki, the outgoing minister of Aviation and airspace,  at a recent meeting with  the representatives of the foreign   airlines,  IATA and  NANTA,   was said to have assured them that  ‘’the issue would be  tabled  directly to the President  for his urgent intervention.

 That much was  confirmed  by an industry Stakeholder, who is  optimistic that the release of their blocked funds from ticket sales  this time around  would bypass  Emefiele, the apex  bank governor  as the  minister had assured that it would  be tabled directly to the President for  his speedy intervention.

The aviation and airspace minster may have had his way as  the issue of the release of the blocked funds of the  foreign airlines’   is currently receiving attention at the appropriate quarters. Vintage Seriki.   

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