By Louis Ibah
Mr. Allen Onyema, Chairman/CEO of Air Peace Airline, says he is throwing his weight behind the Federal Government’s decision to concession the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja to private firms.
The isolation of the two prime and lucrative airports out of the country’s 22 airports billed for concessioning has come under severe criticism by some analysts as aviation industry workers have vowed to resist the policy.
But Onyema, in an interview with Daily Sun, however, decried the continued management of Nigerian airports as government business. According to him, the trend had proved over the years to be counterproductive in efforts to boost the quality of Nigerian airports’ infrastructure to world-class standards.
The Air Peace boss also spoke on the need to establish storage airport facilities in the northern part of the country and the economic benefits of peaceful and non-violent approach to the resolution of the various ethnic conflicts in Nigeria.
Lagos, Abuja airports’ concessioning
Let me say this, government has no business doing business; that is the truth. The Nigerian government has no business operating the airports as businesses; that again is the truth. So, if the present Federal Government has taken the decision to concession the Lagos and Abuja airports to private firms, I tell you, that that is the right thing to do. Look at MMA2 (the second domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos), which had been concessioned to a private firm, look at the infrastructure and you will agree with me that it is the best airport in Nigeria today. So concessioning is good for us. But you must note that when the government is doing business, there is the tendency for the government to over employ. And when you over employ people, it does not help the business grow and prosper, rather such businesses will continue to go down. You cannot over rule the fact that whoever is going to take over the concessioned airports will have to streamline the workforce and this means some people will surely have to go. So, in concessioning the airports, what the government has to do is to ensure that a lot of Nigerians don’t lose their jobs. The government needs to assure the airport workers in particular that they won’t lose their jobs.
I am also using this platform to call on the Federal Government to establish one or two aircraft storage airports in the northern part of the country. In fact, there are lots of potential we have not fully tapped in the Nigerian aviation sector and the storage airport is one of them. But if the government can establish these airports, then Nigeria will earn a lot more revenue out of it just as additional jobs would be created for citizens.
I have suggested the northern part of the country because of their type of climate, since the dry conditions reduce corrosion and the hard ground does not need to be paved and which favours storage airports better than the climate we have in the southern part of the country. A storage airport is a facility that allows airlines from all over the world and aircraft manufacturers with brand new aircraft that have not been purchased for display or keep their aircraft. So you can imagine the revenue and jobs that would be created in Nigeria if a manufacturing company is paying to display new aircraft in our storage airports and people from other countries are also coming in to make enquiry about the new aircraft.
The government has to do something about this. If we establish one or two storage airports, I tell you that there would be lots of airlines, not just the ones in Nigeria, but from within the West African sub-region, Africa and other continents, that would come to Nigeria to patronise these storage airports. In Air Peace, for instance, we have acquired three Boeing aircraft, which we cannot bring into the country right now but we are keeping them in dry storage airport in France. And we are paying for their stay in that storage airport. So you can appreciate what I mean when I said there are lots of untapped opportunities in the Nigerian aviation industry that we need to harness. This is just one of them.
People have always asked me what can be done to stem the restiveness among our youths and my response is that every rich man, every rich woman, every entrepreneur should invest in the country. If all of us are investing in this country, creating jobs for these youths, then the country would be a better place for all of us. But the problem is that we have some people who are taking money out of the country and are rather investing offshore and creating jobs for people of other climes. So I am appealing to every Nigerian who has what it takes to invest in the country and create wealth for our citizens. My belief is that if we take a lot of jobless people out of the streets, and get them actively engaged with the right values, a lot of the crises we are having would no longer be happening. So we need to start creating jobs for our citizens and we have the potential to do this. I have not seen any country that everything is left in the hands of the government to do; so private citizens must also assist in taking the youths out of the street. That is the change; it must begin with all of us.
Airlines in Nigeria are always having challenges securing credits from banks and the problem with Nigerians is that they know that N10,000 will assist them solve the problem they have, but when they go to the bank, they will apply for N2 million. They will use the excess money for other things. At the end of the day, the capacity of the business they invested in will not be able to pay back the loan. In the past too, we had cases of airlines that took bank money and they never paid back. But in Air Peace, we are financially disciplined. What we take is what we need and we always pay back. Our integrity goes with us wherever we go to seek for credit. The banks trust us because they know we will pay back. Around the close of 2016, Air Peace embarked on a massive route and fleet expansion project. So the banks give us money, and that is why we have 22 aircraft today in Nigeria. It also underscores the depth of our resolve to make a huge difference in the Nigerian aviation industry. We are matching our huge expansion project with the right equipment and people to ensure the delivery of the best flight services to our valued guests.
While the Boeing 777 aircraft we have acquired would be deployed to service the airline’s designated international routes, including South Africa, London, Guangzhou-China, Dubai, Mumbai and Atlanta, the Boeing 737s would strengthen the carrier’s expansion to more destinations in the West Coast of Africa, including Lome, Abidjan, Douala, Dakar and Niamey. Air Peace is committed to investing in equipment and services that make travelling more comfortable, convenient and seamless for the flying public. If we were not paying back, the banks won’t be doing business with us. What we do is that as the aircraft are working, we allow the banks to be taking their money, and once they finish taking their money, then we tell them to leave us alone. That is why we have been coping very well because we don’t borrow out of limits and we are financially disciplined. But other people believe that bank money belongs to nobody and that they can do whatever they like with bank money. That is wrong.
Financing non-violence projects
People have asked me why I had to finance the dialogue, peace and non-violence training for members of the Arewa Youths, Odua People’s Congress and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and my simple explanation is that without peace we can never achieve anything meaningful in this country whether as private citizens, businessmen and women or investors. We need peace to grow as a people, we need a peaceful atmosphere to also conduct our businesses and grow the economy. And you know that the airline that by God’s special grace we floated is called Air Peace; it is all about peace and harmony. So through the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN) we invested over N350 million in the training of over 45 youths selected from the IPOB, Arewa Youths, Fulani herdsmen, OPC on non-violence methods of pursuing their causes and getting their views aired. We brought in peace and non-violence conflict resolution experts from the United States of America to conduct the first phase of the training held in Lagos. The second phase of the training would see these youths going to the USA to get more training. It is a very powerful programme. You cannot leave government and politicians to do everything in the country. What we all want in this country is peace and justice. So, I am doing this to ensure that this country achieves its full economic potential under a peaceful atmosphere.
Agreed that there are conflicts everywhere, but then, conflict in itself is not all that bad; it can also be a catalyst for socio-economic change. So this is our own small way of contributing to the growth and development of our country and I am not doing it for any other reason than for humanity. At the end of the programme, we would have churned out youths that would fight for Nigeria and not just their individual ethnic groups.
Link: Nigerian airports concessioning, right way to go – Onyema, Air Peace boss