By Ismaila Chafe, Abuja.
The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, has frowned at foreign airlines selling tickets in dollars, warning that government would not take it kindly with those caught engaging in such violation of Nigerian laws.
Sirika gave the warning on Wednesday, while fielding questions from correspondents at the end of the virtual meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in the State House, Abuja.
The minister said that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had been instructed to swing into action by protecting the interests of Nigerians against the reported airlines’ malpractices.
He warned that no violator, no matter how highly placed, would be spared, if caught in the act.
According to him, findings at government’s disposal have indicated that some of the airlines are refusing payment in naira and charging their ticket fares in dollars, in utter violation of the country’s laws.
Sirika said: “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 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.”
The minister also disclosed that the foreign airlines made over 1.1 billion dollars in Nigeria in 2016, as President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration cleared the 600 million dollars it inherited from previous government.
Sirika recalled that the airlines remitted over 600 million dollars to their home countries in 2016, while over 265 million dollars had also been released this year, out of about 484 million dollars due to them.
He stressed that the government was trying to keep the airlines happy by ensuring that their money did not pile up again, saying that while the country needed their services, the airlines also needed the Nigerian market.
Besides, the minister warned the airlines to refrain from using the social media to press home their demands, rather than using the diplomatic channels.
Sirika also described as irresponsible some media report that the Federal Government had so far expended N14.6 billion on Nigeria Air project.
He said that government had only spent N651 million (N352 million and N299 million) on what he called transactional advisory services, as approved by the FEC, but yet to be disbursed as the consultants were yet to finish their work
He said: “So, Nigeria Air is on course; we are going to come very soon to council for approval of the full business case.
“The activity is a Public-Private Partnership, which is guided by the regulations of ICRC (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 from those that I have maximum respect for.
“Papers like the Guardian, which put out a sensational article on the front page that the Federal Government of Nigeria has spent N14 billion on the national carrier and they did nothing – this is absurd,” he added.