QUESTIONS are being asked about the Federal Executive Council’s (FEC’s) recent approval of the sum of N10bn for automation of five international airports in Nigeria; Lagos, Enugu, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano as some industry players cannot help but wonder why money is being approved for terminals earmarked for concession.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika who got the FECs approval said the contract was awarded to Arlington Security Nigeria Limited with the timeline of 12 months stating that the system would facilitate Common Use of Terminal Equipment (CUTE) system required for sharing airport resources in accordance with IATA Recommendation 1797.
According to him, this allows flexible sharing of resources for check-in and boarding, such as servers, work stations, associated peripherals between airlines and handling agencies present at the airport.
The minister also said the system would also provide for baggage drop, which makes it faster and quicker for passenger processing and would also provide for E-gates that would be electronically operated.
What is most baffling to many industry watchers is the fact the airports scheduled to benefit from this automation are the over $500 million CCECC Terminals, which are said to have been built to meet modern standard and state of the art and would only require upgrades and expansion after 2045.
So if these Chinese-assisted terminals do not come with some form of automation, then what makes them state of the art and if they do, why is Nigeria investing in something that is already in existence or scheduled to be part of an ongoing project one cannot help but muse.
Another question on the lips of many is if there was an actual open bid for the contract in this first place and did it follow due process before Arlington Security Nigeria Limited got it?
Also another situation that begs for response is the array of automated Self Check-in counters seemingly abandoned at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) departure hall which NigerianFLIGHTDECK cannot ascertain for sure when in 2020 they were procured but can say they were rejected by foreign airlines who said the technology was old and not compatible with the times.
And even if those equipment were to be installed in the existing terminal, one still wonders if the equipment would be installed in a terminal that the Minister said would be demolished in 2019 and rebuilt with nothing less than N14 billion as the airport, according to him, has seen better days.
The minister had also stated that the system when in place would facilitate CUTE system required for sharing airport resources and that the automation was new and had not been part of the system provided in Lagos and Abuja before now.
On the contrary, Nigerians recall that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had on October 31, 2007 entered into agreement with Maevis Limited to provide an integrated Airport Operations Management System, AOMS for FAAN part of which contained automation of the airport managers’ revenue as well as provision of a CUTE system.
The contract was however terminated in a letter duly issued to Maevis on February 24, 2011, with a two-month notice period with regards to the Concession Agreement after which Societe International Telecommunication Aeronautiques (SITA) was brought in.
This led to legal actions and a Federal High Court in Lagos ruled in June, 2013 that all the agreements entered by FAAN and SITA be halted and their implementation stopped while Justice Ibrahim Buba awarded N5 billion as damages in favour of Maevis Nigeria Ltd., in a suit against SITA.
All these although key are not as important as why the country is paying double for a project scheduled to come on stream soon or better yet why is the minister of aviation playing the concession drum like an oracle priest stating that it is going to be one of his legacies and yet he plans to provide more investment into the terminal leaving the concessionaire to bring nothing to the table but cart away resources from already established infrastructure.
President of Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI) Dr. Gbenga Olowo on the approval of N10bn by FEC for airport automation project stated, “Private sector participation in aviation safe for airlines with this administration remains cloudy. National carrier rebirth itself remains a contradiction. In six years, Arik, Aero, national carrier remains a mirage.
“Policy statement on concession of airports to evolve total private sector participation is not here in 6 years when Ghana Airport Transformation took barely two years. One would have expected ICRC to concession the airports after resolving the many bugging issues already identified by industry experts, workers unions and the general public and utilize these funds on more pressing issues in the sector. Pardon my ignorance.
“Lack of public bidding for the contract: I presume bidding process must have been concluded by Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) under whose purview the activity lies where concession to be on course. He said.
Head of Research, Zenith Travels Mr. Olumide Ohunayo who made his views known recently said,” The money approved has to do with airport operating system. All these departure gates, cameras and other system, that were approved for were equipment to be used at terminal buildings for the five major airports.
“These are the terminal buildings and airports that are already slated for concession. So, you now begin to wonder why the government is spending money for someone else to come in and take such terminals. Also, at what point did the government decide on this? We never saw any advert, bidding for it and suddenly, a price came out from nowhere and it was approved. The same Federal Executive Council that said they were stopping the national carrier has gone ahead to approve over N20 billion for the same project from palliatives. You are giving N5 billion to those who are living and gave N22 billion to a child that has not been born.”
“So, there is something wrong in the disposition of cash in the industry of late and the approval from the FEC. Invariably, with this approval, it is assumed concession of the airports is done and dusted for it not to be raised again forever. For me, I am happy to see FAAN take over the airports back from the concession, but there is need to make FAAN commercially-oriented, profitable and be investors in other airports outside Nigeria.
“Now that we are once again investing in our airports, we can as well look at a management company that will take over the management of FAAN for a period of eight to 10 years to restructure FAAN for profitability as a full airport company. It remains government ownership during that period. The idea is just to restructure, be ready to pay people off, train staff and be ready to pay those who are available well and prepare the airports for profitability and for the benefit of the passengers and the country in general,” he said.
What is important right now is for those in authority to check their spending and not be complacent to just allow things go through FEC without thorough scrutiny as N10bn is a lot of money for automation in a nation grappling with myriad of challenges.
And truth be told, if there was the existence of Boards in the industry, one of them if not totally compromised would have pointed out some of these unclear areas with regards approval, which terminals in particular the automation would go and if Nigeria would spend money on terminals we claim to want to concession just so as to give them out .