• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Operating environment in Nigeria not conducive for aviation business – Na’Allah, Senate deputy majority leader

Bala Ibn Na’Allah, deputy majority leader of the Senate, represents Kebbi South Senatorial District. In this interview with OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, he speaks on the near-crisis situation in the nation’s aviation sector with domestic airlines requesting for bailout funds, the recent CBN policy on domiciliary accounts, relationship between the Presidency and the Senate leadership, delay in composition of Standing Committees, among other issues. Excerpts:

You moved a motion on the worrisome and unstable position of Nigeria aviation industry. What informed this motion?

All airlines that have been operating in the country in the past 25 years have crashed. From Nigerian Airways to Triax, Sosoliso, Dasab, Kokol, Harka, Haco, ADC, Okada, Gas, Hold Trade, Associated, Chanchangi, Premium, IRS, Air Nigeria, Savannah, Concord and a host of others. There must be a reason. And the reason is simple: the operating environment in the country is not conducive enough. And this is as a result of series of uncoordinated, unprofessional and interest-guided policies by former ministers and captains of the industry with sole intention to have the monopoly to operate within the environment.
Then, there is the issue of over bloated federal agencies established for the purpose of supporting the industry that are feeding fat on the various multiple charges that exist in the country. To the extent that today, Nigeria exists as the costliest environment to operate an aircraft. So, something is wrong definitely. And we can’t continue to support the monopoly of some people with desire to enrich themselves at the expense of the public. They have had enough, for God’s sake. Let them give us breathing space to; at least, develop so that we compete favourably with other airlines globally. And we possess the capacity to do so.

Where will you place the issue of corruption in the aviation sector?

Of course, you know that corruption plays a very high role in this issue as it relates to management of public enterprise and management of the parastatals of government. But you will not talk about corruption when it comes to the management of the airlines that are in existence. Because they are private concerns and therefore, there is that initial desire to exist and make profit, which we have not seen in our present environment.

What hope do you have that at the end you will achieve the desired result with this motion?

That is why this motion is specially captured. There are things that we believe that will happen in this country and have happened in South Africa, United States of America and in Ethiopia. When those other jurisdictions discovered that there were haphazard policies by government, the entire policy-making decisions were taken over by the parliament. So, whatever policy you are going to make, the parliament must debate it and look at the pros and cons of that policy on the growth and development of the industry. So, you can see that in the United States, you can never bring out any policy without the involvement of the parliament.

Loot at what happened of recent. Somebody woke up in the morning and said that nobody can deposit money in an account, provided it is domiciliary. And that nobody can go and buy dollar from outside. That policy tells on the economy that any single individual should possess the power to do so. Today, what are we seeing? You granted licence yourself to people to exist as Bureau de Change. And you are allocating money to the same people based on the licence they hold. And then you bar the public from going to the same people to buy and when they come to you, they cannot find it. So, it is ridiculous and it is because our parliaments have laid back on the responsibilities. No single policy of government that has such national implication should be allowed to be taken by one individual.
It is not done anywhere in the world. That policy should have been taken to the parliament, people should have been allowed to debate, people are going to ask questions. Some industry people will want to know how they are going to fund their spare parts and the rest. So, if a system is developed in such a way that everybody knows that this is the way to have access to what you want, then you can do away with what you have. But you cannot just wake up in the morning and say this is what should be the policy, with the consequence now that a lot of people cannot pay their lease.
They leased some equipment and they are supposed to be paying in dollars. Now they don’t have access to the dollar to pay. And those equipment are going to be taken back. And everything they have invested in buying those equipment will be lost. So, when you are taking a policy of this magnitude, you cannot sit down. Not even the President should have the power to do so under a democracy. It is normally given to the parliament so that it is well debated. It is not that you are trying to take away the power of anybody. But the belief is that three heads are better than one.

Are you blaming the Central Bank governor for the policy?

I am blaming him terribly for doing that. It is irresponsible.

Should we expect another motion to address this issue?

Unfortunately, the Senate is on recess. And this is something that should have been taken care of immediately because a lot of people are in trouble now. I can tell you that on Wednesday, one of the aircraft that is being operated by one of the companies in Nigeria developed a fault, they needed spare parts. They have money to pay but they cannot reach it through the bank and they cannot operate in Nigeria and earn money abroad. And if for example you say you are barring people from depositing dollar in their domiciliary account and that only monies realised outside can be deposited in that account, naira is not an international currency. So, who can I pay using naira? It doesn’t make sense.

It’s been over two months since the inauguration of the 8th Senate and yet standing committees have not been constituted. What is responsible for the delay?

The responsibility for constituting the (standing) committee of the Senate rests with the Selection Committee, which involves the entire leadership of the Senate and maybe, some two or three other senators. You will have realised that the PDP Senate Caucus was only inaugurated and formed about two weeks ago. And after that, there were series of things that needed to be done that are more of priority than constituting the committees. So, I believe that within the period for the holiday, the Principal Officers will have time to come and sit down and look at the committees. More so, the questionnaire has been sent to every senator to choose his area of specialisation where he wants to serve and those things are being compiled now for the purpose of starting the work of constituting the committees of the Senate.

Some have said the over one-month delay is too long considering the fact that the Senate went on recess for over one month recently.  How will you react to this?

The holiday that the Senate recently embarked on was not a recess. What we did was to suspend plenary and attend to those issues that are reasonably necessary to be put in place for the purpose of proper functioning of the Senate. And when we were about to go back to plenary, there were certain issues that arose that had to do with solving the issue of Principal Officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives and we extended that by one week. And after we resumed plenary all other committees that were inaugurated were working. And you would have seen that every day, the Senate President was in his office, we were in our office and visitors were coming and the workings of the Senate were going on. So, we only suspended plenary. It is now that we are going on recess. And this recess is statutory for parliament all over the world. It is called summer recess because most lawmakers will want to be with their families and it is the only opportunity that we have to be with our family in one year. So, we do not want to deny lawmakers that opportunity. And that is why all over the world, parliaments will be on recess during this period.

President Buhari assured that the list of ministers will come out in September. What happens if the list comes out when Senate is on recess?

We will reconvene. I assure you the Senate will reconvene. We will give priority to whatever will engine the oil of governance in this country with the seriousness that it deserves.

There seems to be a cordial working relationship between the Presidency and the House of Representatives, unlike what obtains between the Presidency and the Senate. When will this impasse be resolved?

If there is nothing to bring the two officially why should they meet officially? Don’t forget that we are an independent arm of government. And on Wednesday, we confirmed the INEC Commissioner nominee from Jigawa. Only last week, we confirmed the Service Chiefs for the President. What good working relationship can be better than that? We are not supposed to be in a (tea) party with the President. He has his job to do; we have our job to do. And provided the jobs are being done, I don’t think there is anything that will suggest that there is no good working relationship between the Senate leadership and the Presidency.

Are you saying that the Senate has moved on from the leadership crisis that engulfed it weeks ago?

Unfortunately, I am not even one of those who believed that we had a crisis. I have always maintained the fact that what we had was a disagreement and we are beginning to see that that is being settled. Everybody has a way of thinking. And the good thing is that we have something to guard our thinking. So, we will abide by that.