Plan by the federal government to concession the five international airports in the country was unveiled Monday by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.
The minister, who made the disclosure while making submissions on 2021 revenue projections of the aviation sector before the Senate’s joint committee on finance and national planning, also appealed to the federal lawmakers not to cut proposed budgets of the sector for the year in view of dwindling revenues caused by COVID-19 pandemic.
Sirika said concessioning the airports was a plan seriously being considered by the federal government for effective and efficient service delivery to air travellers.
“It will boost the revenue drive of the government,” he said, but added that the Muhammadu Buhari-led government as socially democratic in nature, had vehemently refused to sell government property as carried out by past governments.
He warned that with the Coronavirus, pandemic that had affected all globally, Nigeria as a country, would up till first quarter of 2022, continue to witness sharp decline in the number of passengers.
To this end, the minister said the sector needed fund to carry out its activities, warning that if the government cannot fund the industry because of the challenge of income, then government should not take the little they have.
He said: “We are in a difficult and challenging times and we do not have solutions to it even as advanced countries are spending huge amounts of money to support civil aviation businesses.
“The government in Nigeria because of the challenge of funding, has not been able to respond to civil aviation requests and civil aviation funding like other countries have done.
“If government is not able to fund us because of the challenge of income, then government should not take the little that we have. Every single agency in civil aviation is so critical that we need to fund it and because we understand the nature of this business, that was why we have now introduced the concession of our airports.
“We have now done the outline business case, we are now going ahead for the procurement to concession these airports. The reason is simple and that is because this government, the APC administration, is social democratic in nature, it does not want to sell national assets. It wants to keep the assets with the people but we can concession them and improve them to make them better. We are very sure that when we do that we will improve the revenue of the nation.”
Asked whether the overhead of the agencies should be mopped up to fund the national budget because of the challenging situation in the country, he said: “I don’t think so. I don’t think so because of the nature of both the ministry and its agencies and what is facing us.
“Take for example the COVID-19, we are the greatest hit sector. At the time when we came and in order to implement our agenda, which is called aviation roadmap, when we began to implement it, we slowly became the second fastest growing sector.
“Within the three years of implementation of that roadmap, we became in 2018, the second fastest growing sector of the Nigerian economy and just before COVID-19, we became the fastest growing sector in the Nigerian economy. But unfortunately, COVID came and we shut down.
“We are not in the business of selling phones that we can still sell and get the required revenue. The revenue for yesterday is lost.
“Therefore, we were hugely impacted by the COVID and with this COVID, I think until quarter four of 2021 and perhaps quarter one of 2022, we will continue to see sharp decline in passengers and that is directly proportional to the revenue that we collect, because people’s confidence has to be raised.
“They have to begin to want to fly again and certain factors that encourage propensity to fly are also being eroded during this period,” he explained.
In a related development, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 has said airlines that failed to comply with international flight protocols would be fined $3,500 per passenger.
National Coordinator Presidential Task Force Dr Sani Aliyu announced this at the committee’s daily briefing in Abuja Monday.
He said passenger on self-quarantine who failed to show up for a repeat of the PCR test would have his or her name on international watch list and electronic passport suspended.
He said the new protocols would be strictly applicable to passengers coming into Nigeria from foreign countries.
Aliyu said the PTF had come to the conclusion that it would now be safe to shorten the isolation period for in-coming passengers from 14 days to eight days from August 29, 2020.
“From the 29th of August, travellers will be required to pay for their COVID-19 test in-country. We are developing a national payment portal, which will link to the current Lagos payment portal that is already active
“We will continue with the policy of ensuring that airlines only board passengers without symptoms of COVID-19 and with negative PCR result. Airlines will be fined $3,500 per passenger if they fail to comply with pre-boarding COVID-19 requirements.
“On arrival in-country from the 29th of August, passports will no longer be retained by the Nigerian Immigration Service, rather, passengers will be allowed to proceed and exit the airport once they can show evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR result, evidence of payment for a PCR result in-country and where possible and where we have been able to sort this health questionnaire form that has been submitted either manually or electronically.
“Passengers will be asked to proceed on self-isolation at home for a period of seven days. On day seven, they will proceed to sample collection center or laboratory for a repeat COVID-19 PCR test, by day eight, if the PCR test is negative, they will be allowed to exit isolation.
“Based on a rigorous scientific review, the PTF has decided that it will be safe to shorten the current quarantine period or self isolation for passengers coming into the country from 14 days to eight days, provided they have a negative PCR test result from day seven.
“Passengers will be monitored by public health officers throughout the period of self-isolation, those who develop symptoms will be treated in the same way that we currently manage our COVID-19 positive patients,” he said.
The PTf national coordinator further said the protocol that had just been approved would be reviewed after four weeks.
“We will also be looking at the level of discrepancy between positive results with a view to developing a list of accredited laboratories for countries we frequently receive travellers from.
“In that regard, once we have a list of regulated laboratories, we would insist that all passengers use these centres for the test. All intended travellers to Nigeria must have tested negative for COVID-19 PCR before allowed entry into the country.
“We are narrowing the period of validity of PCR test from the current 14 days to 7 days from 29th of August. Preferably, the PCR test should be done as closed as possible to the point of departure for Nigeria, preferably from 48 to 72 hours, but we will still accept result that are valid for 7 days.
“Prior to boarding, we are currently developing a payment portal. As you are aware, at the moment, the PCR test that we have been doing for evacuated passengers has been sponsored by Aliko Dangote Foundation.
“We are very grateful for their generosity, we have had more than 13,000 stranded Nigerians brought into the country as a result of this process. But from the 29th August, travellers will be required to pay for their COVID-19 test in country.
“We are developing a national payment portal which we will link to the current Lagos payment portal that is already active for passengers and we will allow accredited, validated private laboratories to provide these services.
“We will provide you with additional information on the payment portals and information on the list of accredited private laboratories providers as well as collection centers across the country on the payment platform as well as the NCDC website.
He said in terms of ensuring compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, the task force was currently working with the Nigeria Immigration Service to design a system to determine those who have not submitted themselves for a repeat of PRC test from day seven upwards.
“These passengers may be sanctioned with inclusion on travel watch lost, the electronic passport suspended for a period of time if they decline to have a repeat PRC test or disappear from the isolation process.
“We will continue to pay very close attention to laboratories accreditation throughout the country as well as outside the country.
“These protocols will be reviewed in four weeks to ensure that results we are getting from passengers pre-boarding will continue to be reliable and if there is a need to review this policy it will be done,” he said.