EFCC SHOULD BE INVOLVED IN RECOVERING DEBT OWED FAAN â€“ ANYIM UDE
As the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) battles various airlines, agencies and concessionaires that owe it billions of naira, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Elder Anyim Ude has called for the involvement of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the debt recovery to make it a huge success.
He said the EFCC's inclusion in the banks debt recovery efforts made the debtors cough out billions of naira within days. Ude also called for the revocation of the contract FAAN has with Maevis, its concessionaire in charge of aeronautical revenue collection, explaining that FAAN is now poorer since the company came onboard.
'We recommended to the executives to fire the Maevis man and relieve him of whatever position he is holding with FAAN. He should also be prosecuted because the debt profile of FAAN has worsened since he came in to help FAAN recover its money. When FAAN was doing it itself, it was recovering more money than when this man came', Ude explained.
He expressed joy over the successful designation of the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu to an International airport, describing it as a realization of a 40-year old dream.
He said the fortunes of the South East would soon experience a quantum leap, assuring that all the facilities needed to encourage international flights will soon be put in place.
He speaks more on the airport and other issues.
Upgrade of AIA to international gateway
I feel very fulfilled against the background that my committee came onboard on the 7th of September 2007 and as somebody from this part of Nigeria, the South East, naturally I was interested to know why this part does not have an international airport, I also recall that there was once a Minister from this area and I also recall that my predecessor in office, was from Ebonyi State; so I wanted to know what the problem is and through memos and interactions, it was clear to us that this thing was traceable to the civil war and the effects thereafter.
They believe that people from this area for whatever ethnic reason, should not be given an outlet to the rest of the world, rather, they should continue using Port Harcourt, Lagos and Abuja. For me, I felt that was a challenge.
We started shouting and I thank God our voice became so loud that people could no longer ignore us. Bureaucracy is something that is not easy to overcome, we had to make proposals, we had to see those proposals stated in the budget until they started materialising and so from 2007 we were inching in gradually, through either Internal Generated Revenues (IGR) from the parastatals in the aviation sector or from the national budget and a few things were being done at least to rehabilitate Enugu Airport. But there were certain basic issues that needed to be addressed and that was quite a large amount of money. One, we needed to extend the runway, this was, at that point in time, 2.4 kilometres and for you to talk of internationalising it, it must have not less than 3 kilometres and that required a lot of money.
Again, you had to expand it and you had to resurface and all these things fall into billions of naira. At that point, we were not able to inject more than 3.5 billion. Even at that, apart from the 2008 budget, the N2 billion was from our distinguished Senators from Enugu State and they decided to pour it into the project and our leader, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu was of course at the helm of this struggle to get things improved and so while we were doing all that, we had a fine lady from this part of Nigeria appointed as Minister. God when He wants to establish Himself locates the right people in the right place at the right time and that helped to hasten things and so our voices became louder and therefore with all the approaches we had made to the late president, that is the Senators from the south East, it was only when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan came on board that these promises became actualised and you can now find the word approved in government records; approved for upgrading to international standards.
And the governors from the south east got together in spite their different political parties and started singing the same song and so with all these shouting from different areas, it became imperative that something must be done and that is what has led to where we are today that Enugu has now been upgraded and in terms of facilities, a Boeing 747 can land here today. The other issues about terminal to accommodate Immigrations, security and all that will come as phase 2. But you don't need that building to take off and land in London from here, the most important thing is the runway and we have got the required International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) specification. And we expect, in fact there is no reason why, the next batch of pilgrims to Israel will not take off from here.
Assessment of the aviation industry
First of all when we came in we had to go round the entire 22 airports and that was in 2007. In the process, we saw that the equipment was in deplorable state and they required rehabilitation; whether you are talking of service equipment or landing facilities and these were the things that led to the unfortunate crashes of 2005 and 2006 involving Sosoliso, Bellview and ADC. You also recall that at that time, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo released a N19.5 billion intervention fund to cure those effect and you will also recall that it was as a result of our intervention as the Senate Committee that we discovered that the money was not properly utilised, the rest is history.
We found some former ministers guilty and they are still trying to get themselves out of the courts. If that money was properly utilised, definitely there would have been a lot of improvements in all our airports but we couldn't go on dwelling in pain when grace abound, we then looked forward and made some recommendations with some contributions from various ministers and now we have one more international airport added to the four existing ones and that is a lot of improvement, you will also recall that at the time these crashes happened the victims' relations had not been paid compensation contrary to international regulation. We waded in and you are aware that most of them have been settled. We also tackled the issue of passenger comfort, you recall the four-hour blackout on the 9th of May, you also have seen what has come out of it.
In the process of finding out what happened during our visit to Lagos, we found out that FAAN was being owed over N17 billion by different organisations, airlines even government organisations etcetera and by implication they were trying to strangulate FAAN. The organisation is dying because they can no longer pay salaries when they are being owed N17 billion. With that kind of money, FAAN doesn't need government and by the way all of you know that Heathrow Airport, JFK Airport and a lot of others are not run by government and they generate enough funds to sustain their existence.
It can be done here but because of the endemic corruption and incompetence in FAAN, I have said it over again and till the executive cleans up FAAN, the problem will remain, and we have told them how to do it and we have done our own beat. We even recommended that EFCC should be involved in recovering those debts and if you recall EFCC was involved when banking had its own problem. There were a lot of debts owed to banks and it was only when they got involved that billions started rolling into the banks' accounts. That is what we expect should happen in this industry if FAAN is to survive or else one day you will find out that FAAN ceased to exist.
What is the committee doing about the FAAN concessionaires that seem to be stronger than FAAN?
I know what you are saying and one of them if I must mention it is Maevis. We also recommended to the executives to fire the man and relieve him of whatever position he is holding with FAAN. He should also be prosecuted because the debt profile of FAAN has worsened since he came in to help FAAN recover its money. When FAAN was doing it itself, it was recovering more money than when this man came. We have also heard of big men in high places telling them not to collect this or that debt. It's time we unmask these so called big men. Are they Nigerians?
If they are stopping FAAN from collecting their debt either through concessionaires or not, are they doing that at the interest of the country? If not they should be unmasked, we want to know who those beg men are. I keep hearing this. Airlines owe FAAN it is only in this country that they do that if you owe abroad they will ground you for faltering in your payment. The only day that they ground them, within 48 hours one of them paid N50 million. If we do that constantly everyday without interference from the people that they call big men FAAN will have a leeway to survive.
What will happen to the agreements signed that are inconclusive?
We reviewed the entire situation and we found out that in those agreements there were tendencies of corruption along the line, we reviewed all that and found out that even when a onetime minister, Femi Fani-Kayode requested to the former president that the agreement should be moved from 12 to 36 years, the President said No! Do a memo to the Federal Executive Council (FEC), that memo has never gone there. We have formally requested that the present Minister of Aviation, take the agreement to the Federal Executive Council to decide whether it is 12 years or 36 years. Whichever way they go, it must be in the interest of Nigeria. So that is the beginning of the solution to that problem, the FEC will look at it and say whether somebody will run that place for 12 or 36 years.
What are the projections for 2011?
Well, with what you are seeing from Enugu, we are in a joyous mood and you find out that this portends good tidings and with this development I only wish that Nigeria can do what they do I other countries, keep our ministers for two, three or four years so they can have short term, medium term and long term plans and they can see it through not to keep a minister for one year and throw him or her out and make the place unstable, the same thing goes for the aviation industry, between 2005 and 2007 there has been no less than four chief executives in one of the parastatals, that is not good, I am not saying to retain corrupt people but there are people doing well either at the administration level or the chief executive level keep them there for four five years and the place will stabilise, anyway we are hoping that by 2011 we will be looking at these long term plans to stabilise things and organisations in the country.
Privatisation You can't use a single incident and become pessimistic; there are very many good fellows, very many honest Nigerians and it is a matter of well if you bump something during a journey, you retreat and re-strategise and improve the mechanism in which you use to identify the honest ones, there are many honest contractors, concessionaires setting aside self because most of the problem in this industry is that people first of all think about themselves instead of service, put service first and after that other things will come.
I believe we will get the right people and I still believe privatisation is the answer because as I said all the airports outside this country they are not run by government and I think there is too much in government hands, there is so much demand but sectors like aviation that can generate its own income and fund itself should be allowed to do so using the right people and honest people.