Vanguard (Lagos)

7 November 2012

Nigeria: Senate Orders EFCC to Recover U.S. $235 Million From BA, Virgin Atlantic

Abuja — The Senate, yesterday, asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to go after the British Airline and Virgin Atlantic Airways and recover a total of $235 million that should be fines in line with the Civil Aviation Act 2006.

It also mandated the anti-graft agency to compel the airlines to refund to Nigerian passengers monies that were illegal charges just as they were similarly compelled by UK and USA. The Senate gave the directive after deliberating on the report of the Senator Hope Uzodinma-led Senate Committee on Aviation on the violation of aviation laws and practice by foreign airlines and lapses in the operations of regulatory agencies.

According to the breakdown of the fines, BA will refund $135 million while VAA will cough out $100 million.

The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Lamorde

The report further disclosed that Lufthansa Airline currently owes Nigeria through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, well over $14 million being royalties due to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Uzodinma's move to grant Arik Airline a national flag carrier status suffered a major setback following major criticisms the recommendation got from the Senators and it was, therefore, rejected. The committee also recommended that the Senate should engage Aviation Ministry on its plan to float an indigenous national carrier.

The Senate, however, stood down the report of the committee for another legislative day to enable the committee carry out further legislative actions.

Let's stop blaming others for our problems -- Mark

Speaking after deliberations on the report, Senate President David Mark said as a nation, we must stop blaming others for our problems especially the Aviation sector and put our house in order.

Mark who also noted that the laws governing the aviation sector were very weak, took a critical look of the state of our airports which, according to him, are in very bad shape, adding that foreign airlines operating in Nigeria must be commended as they were only doing Nigeria a favour.

Mark, who called for a total overhauling of the Aviation sector said: "You need to go back and do some more homework and bring us some critical recommendations that can make us change the aviation industry as it is at the moment, there are very many problems. Of course, one of them is to reorganise our airports properly. The airports we have at the moment, for foreign airline to even come here, they are doing us a favour. So we need to do our home work and stop blaming other people for our problems because if we refuse to accept our blame, then we won't make progress."

Our laws are weak

David Mark who corroborated the argument earlier raised by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, ACN, Ekiti North that the business of the Senate should not be recommending carriers, but to tighten our aviation laws, said: "Our laws are weak, but even these weak laws are not fully implemented. Weak as the laws may be, they are not being fully implemented because it is this partial implementation of the weak laws that is giving you the authority to recommend some reforms here.

"So, we already have problems with implementing laws we put in place. I think the problem is that the rumour in the air is that Emirate wants to come here, that the Aviation Minister said Emirate should go to Enugu rather than going to Kano, the committee should find out all these for us whether they are true or false. When we say we want to allow competition in the system, let us provide conducive environment for everybody to have a fair deal in the competition."

In trying to defend the recommendations of the Committee, Senator Hope Uzodinma said: "What we can do immediately is that while trying to get NCAA to come up with clear cut economic regulatory framework, to check excessive charges of BA, Nigerians should be given an opportunity for a choice, to see another airline that can carry them directly from Nigeria to London because 70 per cent of passengers leaving here are going to London and outside British Airways, they have to fly other airlines that are not going directly."

In his contribution, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu said: "It is a long time we have debating the motion because of the sentiments involved. I appeal that we can stand down the motion in order to expand the scope and include other necessary issues.

For Senator Ayogu Eze, PDP, Enugu North, "the issues are clearer now and confusions we had in the past have been cleared. The issue we had was that observations and recommendations were scattered all over. Having made the above observations, I second this report.

Also speaking, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South said, " I fully support this report. I commend the committee for recommending something I have always advocated. I don't see reason why government will use people's money to fly abroad without using national carriers. If you do not practice nationality, there is no how the economy can grow. We cannot continue to hurt ourselves on every side. The committee should move to see that government at all levels support local airlines.

In his contribution, Senator Ali Ndume, Borno South said, "the committee did extensive work on the issue. The area of aviation as business to government is very important on the ground that it could generate income. We know that Ethiopia depends so much on Ethiopia airline for income generation. The recommendations by the committee for an airline to be considered a national carrier was done out of patriotism. Right now, we are not generating anything. We can make law that gives Arik national carrier status and there is also nothing wrong with government making a law that officials of government or any one going on government business should not fly other airlines aside national carriers.

"We are not even getting the service we require from foreign operators. The committee has done its work and it is left for the Senate to put in more effort because if anything stringent has to be done, the whole Senate should support the report.

For Senator Nkechi Nwaogu, Abia Central, "We have been talking about establishing national carriers. I hope we have not forgotten too early that we once had national carriers. I do not support a Nigerian government establishing national carriers. I support enabling environment for the private sector to establish national carriers that would be domiciled in Nigeria. NCAA laws are very weak and that is why foreign airlines get away with the exorbitant fares they charge Nigerian passengers. We have also seen the shabby treatments meted to Nigerians. I urged the Senate to look at areas where Nigerians have been grossly abused by these foreign airlines such as fuel charges, which is a scam. We should ensure that Nigerian government collects all that is due to it including five per cent ticket sales amounting to many millions of dollars. We must strengthen the law to ensure that foreign airlines pay their dues."

Also in his contribution, Senator Kabiru Gaya, ANPP-Kano who suggested that all current carriers should be merged to form a formidable airline just like it was done with the banks, said, "my only fear is that anytime we make recommendations in the senate, and all the 109 senators endorse the recommendations they are never implemented I don't want us to waste time on these recommendations and they wont be implemented I urge you senate president to see how you can ensure that our recommendations are implemented.

"I remember when Nigeria Airways was established was at the same time the Saudi Arabia Airline was established now Saudi Airline has thousands of fleets, but Nigeria Airways has crippled because of corruption."

Senator Danjuma Goje, PDP, Gombe Central noted that it beats his imagination to see that the committee recommended Arik as the national carrier with their incessant flight cancelations, delays and so on.

Also in his comments, Senator Isa Galaudu, Kebbi North, however told the the Senate that Arik was heavily indebted to AMCON and that Arik had recently been grounded by the Federal Ministry of Aviation and therefore did not qualify as a National carrier

For Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, ACN, Ekiti North, "the job of the senate is not to recommend which carrier should be a national carrier or not but to tighten the laws to ensure that the findings discovered do not happen again."

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