General Aviation Terminal as government’s albatross

Kayode Adewunmi
The decision by the Ministry of Aviation to go ahead with the inauguration of the controversial General Aviation Terminal, Ikeja, Lagos, is nothing but the highest degree of official rascality. The ministry had embarked on the rehabilitation of the GAT, even when the concessionaire of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two, Bi-Courtney Limited, had won court cases against the Federal Government over the terminal. I recollect that GAT had been part and parcel of the concession agreement between the Federal Government under the leadership of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. It had remained what it was – a chaotic, Oshodi-like terminal – and that was why it was concessioned to Bi-Courtney alongside the burnt Local Airport to modernise it.
I also remember vividly that work began at the burnt airport gradually and before one could say Jack Robinson, it had become a phenomenon with all the accompanying ultra-modern facilities. One would have expected the miracle performed by Bi-Courtney at MMA2 to be replicated at GAT, but the Ministry of Aviation would not allow it. Instead, the government jettisoned the agreement it signed with Bi-Courtney and ignored the various court orders, even by the Court of Appeal, to begin the renovation of GAT. Today, the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, is celebrating that illegality as part of her achievements and nobody is bothering to ask her the implication of the illegal action.
I have been a fan of MMA2, not because of anything, but because the facilities there, which have been consistently maintained over the past five years, marvel me a lot each time I have had to pass through the terminal. My thought has always been how I wish such could be replicated in all the airports in the country. But, the power that be would not allow this.
Why would a government sign an agreement with a company on a facility as important as the airport and jettison that agreement? Why would courts give orders and the government would tell the judges to go to hell by flouting such orders? Even in the animal kingdom, there is orderliness, as each specie of animal knows their capability and capacity. But the attitude of the Federal Government in this matter has shown clearly that the Animal Kingdom is better managed than some parts of Nigeria, where lawlessness is celebrated.
Honestly, I’m just concerned that a government could ignore its own courts without looking back. All the court cases, up to the Court of Appeal, over the concession granted to Bi-Courtney on the airport terminals, had been won by the company, yet Oduah, arrogantly, decided to inaugurate the illegality that GAT is. It surprises me that this government, especially with its Aviation Ministry, aided and abetted by the lawless unions in its various agencies, has dishonoured agreements it willingly signed with various companies than all the previous governments put together.
Some examples will suffice here: On September 28, 2004, Richard Branson, the unusual British billionaire entrepreneur, reached an agreement with the Federal Government that his then new airline – Virgin Nigeria – would use the international terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, for its operations. Elated with this, Branson’s Virgin Nigeria began operations at the base as agreed, but less than four years after, the government reneged on the agreement and forced Virgin Nigeria out of the international terminal, citing baseless security reasons. Of course, the man left Nigeria after alleging that all what government officials in the aviation industry cared for are bribe, bribe and bribe. He sold his stake of 49 per cent in Virgin Nigeria to Jimoh Ibrahim in what later turned to be Air Nigeria and at the same time, the death-knell of the airline.
Again, the same government through the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, in December 2006, reached a concession agreement with Pan Express to collect revenue from cargo operations at the Lagos airport. But FAAN, through its unions, drove the company out of its base, alleging that it was owing the authority. It was later found out that it was actually FAAN that owed Pan Express. Yet, the company was not allowed to come back. What manner of government is this?
The case of Maevis Limited is still fresh in the memory as it happened last March, when FAAN suddenly woke up from its slumber and, again, drove the company away from providing Airport Operations Management System in the airport after it had invested billions of naira to modernise processes at the airport following a 15-year agreement it signed with FAAN. The agency’s excuse was that the agreement was exploitative of FAAN, as if its officials were blind when they signed it. With this, which local or foreign investors would risk his or her money to invest in a sector or an economy where people are, and most of all the government, unreliable, lawless and unpredictable?
As a stakeholder in this sector, I want to say that what the government has done with GAT, is, to say the least very shocking and irresponsible. The Ministry of Aviation should retrace its step and obey the letters of its concession agreement with the airport concessionaire; there are no two ways about it. And if at all FAAN, or the Aviation Ministry, has any issue with the concession agreement with Bi-Courtney, it should explore the provisions for dispute resolution contained in the agreement or obey the various court orders, instead of resorting to self-help as it is the case now.
*Adewunmi, an aviation analyst and company chief executive, sent in this piece from Lagos.