FG to penalise airlines selling tickets in dollars

…travel agents kick, say naira debit cards not functional

The Federal Government, on Wednesday, said it would penalise foreign airlines selling flight tickets in dollars.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, disclosed this while addressing journalists shortly after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Aso Rock Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

According to Sirika, the aviation ministry has gathered that some foreign airlines operating in Nigeria are selling tickets in dollars, violating extant local laws.

He said others carriers said resorted to banning local travel agencies from accessing their websites for ticket purchases.

In August, the International Air Transportation Association revealed that as of July 2022, the Nigerian government was withholding $464m in revenues belonging to foreign airlines, disallowing repatriation.

But explaining the situation on Wednesday, the aviation minister revealed that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority would sanction airlines found guilty of such acts as it undermines the country’s laws.

He said the NCAA had been instructed to sanction defaulting carriers saying no violator, either high or mighty, would be spared when caught.

“I want to use this opportunity to say that reports are reaching us that some of the airlines are refusing to sell tickets in naira. That is a violation of our local laws. They will not be allowed. The high and the mighty amongst them will be sanctioned, if they’re caught doing that.

“NCAA has been directed to swing into action and once we find any airline violating this, we will definitely deal with them. Also, they blocked the travel agents from access. They also made only the expensive tickets available and so on and so forth.

“Our regulators are not sleeping; we have a very vibrant Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Once they find any airline guilty, that airline will be dealt with because we need to protect our people. It is according to our agreements, to what we have signed and this is according to international convention. So going forward, they should desist from doing things that are outside of the law.”

The minister also urged the airlines to follow diplomatic channels to communicate their complaints to the FG rather than resort to social media.

“They should also desist from writing to us and putting things on social media. They should go through diplomatic channels if they want response from the federal government,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Sirika described as absurd a report in a national daily, (not The PUNCH), that the FG spent a whopping N14.6bn on its Air Nigeria project without executing it.

He argued that the government had only spent N651m (N352m and N299m) for what he called transactional advisory services approved by the FEC, some of which it is yet to disburse to the consultants who are still working.

“I want to seize the opportunity to say that we’ve been reading newspaper reports from The Guardian which put out a sensational article on the front page that the federal government of Nigeria has spent N14bn on the national carrier and they did nothing. This is absurd. This is unbecoming of a paper of that caliber to dish out lies to mislead the public.

“The entire amount of money spent on the national carrier is around the transactional advisory services. And we came here with the memo of approval, and we announced the quantum of money to be spent. That was N352m, at today’s rate, and the further contract of N299m, that’s it.”

“Federal Government is committed to establishing this carrier. We’ve gone very far. We’ve found partners. We are negotiating. We will come to council and give the full business report approved. And then we’ll come here and declare,” he added.

Making a case for the long-anticipated national carrier, Sirika said foreign airlines have made over $1.1bn from the Nigerian market since 2016.

The monies, he said, would have been retained in the economy had the airlines been locally owned. He said the foreign airlines remitted over $600m to their home countries in 2016 while over $265m was disbursed in 2022, as part of the $484m due them.

Meanwhile, travel agents under the aegis of National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents have kicked over the plan by the government to sanction foreign carriers, arguing that the carriers were not selling tickets in dollars as alleged by the minister.

The President, NANTA, Susan Akporiaye, said, “He (the minister) has forgotten that the same CBN has placed restrictions on our debit card, if there was no restriction on naira debit card that is how people would have been buying tickets; but because of that restriction we can’t buy it like that. This means people will have to go and get a dollar card, and load it. That is why it looks as if foreign airlines are selling tickets in dollars.  So he has forgotten the policy that was made and that policy is biting us now. So if he goes to look for airlines selling tickets in dollars, he won’t see because they are not on their website. Good luck to the minister if he finds any of them. Technically they’re not selling in dollars.”

Article first published on the Punch Website

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