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.
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.