The Senate has continued to blow the whistle on the neo-colonial business practices of some foreign airlines. UCHENNA AWOM, in this Diary, asks if it is not time to quicken the review of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA).
The Senate onslaught on the foreign airline operators has gathered momentum and as the investigation delves deeper, it becomes apparent how Nigeria and her citizens have been treacherously dealt with and short-changed.
Call it neo-colonialism if you like, but the truth is that by the time the Senate finishes scrutinizing the activities of the foreign airlines, Nigerians will come to realize that they have been mere suckers all this while in the network of an international conspiracy.
All eyes, before now, were fixed on the charges levelled against British Airways and the Virgin Atlantic Airlines, not knowing that theirs were merely examples of a definite bazaar in which the foreign airlines swim in Nigeria. Lufthansa, the German Airline, has been added in the growing list of the foreign firms that have the least respect for Nigeria despite her liberal economic disposition to external investors.
Angered by what it discovered, the Senate last Wednesday ordered Lufthansa Airlines to pay N2.19 Billion ($14.8 Million) being the amount of royalty accrued to the Federal Government from its flight operations from 2009 to October 2011.
The order came less than a week when the foreign airlines were asked to also refund the billions of Naira it allegedly held back in tax accruals to the federal government.
The Chairman Senate Committee on Aviation, Hope Uzodima gave the directive after the Committee heard that Lufthansa was flying 14 frequencies to the country instead of 4 passenger and 3 cargo flights allowed by the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA).
The committee was told that the former Aviation Minister, Babatunde Omotoba, gave a verbal approval to Lufthansa to be flying additional 7 frequencies and that Lufthansa has refused to pay an accumulated $14.8 million.
Uzodima was angry that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with Lufthansa in 2008 in which it agreed to train Nigerian Pilots and provide some equipment at the airports were discarded by the airline and it has also refused to pay its royalties.
The Director of Air Transport from Aviation Ministry, Hassan Musa, who gave the graphic details of the deal with Lufthansa, said that he wrote the Minister of Aviation to advise the Government to cancel the MOU since Nigeria was not deriving any benefit as agreed.
Uzodima said, “they are supposed to train pilots, provide hall, hanger they did not do any, is it not better that they pay us our money rather than hide under an MOU to defraud us?
“If it means driving away all the foreign airlines from Nigeria to ensure the obedience of our laws, we must do it. We want Lufthansa to pay all the monies it is owing this country”.
The importance of the situation is the begging urgency to review the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA). Uzodinma had harped on this matter when he led his committee to probe the activities of the Foreign Airlines with regards to the disparity in their airfare charges which is skewed against Nigerian passengers.
Unfortunately, diplomatic niceties seem to be in the way of economic reality. Perhaps the time has come for Nigerian foreign policy experts to rethink our foreign policy focus and look in the direction of economic diplomacy.
But whose fault is it? These airlines have come to find Nigeria to be a fertile ground for unwholesome business practices. It is only in Nigeria that it would take a parliamentary harassment to force out information from civil servants. That also raises the question of the possibility of some connivance with the foreign airlines. Definitely there must be some persons in the Nigerian government whose functions are to monitor, enforce, and apply sanctions when the need arises.