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FG to sanction airlines selling tickets in dollars – Sirika

Alleged N19.4bn fraud: Hadi Sirika, former aviation minister gets bail

The federal government has vowed to sanction any airline caught selling tickets in a foreign currency.

Minister of Aviation , Hadi Sirika, revealed this on Wednesday while briefing State House Journalists after the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Sirika stated that the government has a responsibility to protect Nigerians and warned that any airline found wanting will be sanctioned.

“We have directed the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to monitor all the activities of the Airlines and sanction anyone found selling ticket in foreign currency,” he said.

Read also: Domestic airlines suffer low patronage as fares soar

He also berated foreign airlines using the social media as mean of expressing their challenges.

“They should stop using the social media, if they want us to respond to their issues. They must go through diplomatic channels if they want response from us,” Sirika said.

“They should desist from putting things on the social media.

The minister, while also speaking on the various road maps embarked upon by his Ministry, disclosed that the road map were done through Public, Private Partnership (PPP), adding that their results will manifest.

He revealed that the planned concessioning of some of the airports were nearing completion stages.

“They will soon come to Council within the next three to four weeks,” he said.

The Minister also revealed that the Federal Executive Council also approved the sum of $352m for the transactionary advisory fees for its Consultants.

Sirika revealed that information at government disposal, shows that some of the airlines are refusing to accept the naira and have resorted to charging their ticket fares in dollars in violation of the country’s laws, while some others have blocked local travel agencies from accessing their websites for transactions, choosing to release expensive tickets.

“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 of local laws, they will not be allowed. The high and the mighty amongst them will be sanctioned, if they’re caught doing that.

“NCAA had 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 so forth.

“Our regulators are not sleeping, we have a very vibrant Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Once they found 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.

Sirika, while urging the airlines to desist from doing things outside of the law, added that the foreign airlines made over $1.1 billion from Nigeria in 2016, when the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration cleared the $600 million it inherited from previous government.

According to Sirika, “these airlines had remitted over $600 million to their home countries in 2016 while over $265 million has also been released this year out of about $484 million due to them. We are doing all that we can to keep the airlines happy by ensuring that their money does not pile up again, because the country needs their services, the airlines need the Nigerian market”.

He denied reports that the Nigeria Air project setup has already gulped over N14.6 billion of government’s funds despite having only five per stake in the airline.

According to him “government has only spent N651 million (N352 million and N299 million) for what he called transactional advisory services approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), but yet to be disbursed as the consultants were yet to finish their work.

“So Nigeria Air is of course, we are going to come very soon to council for approval of the full business case. And the activity is a Public Private Partnership, which is guided by the ICRC regulations, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission,” Sirika said.

“We have diligently followed that. And I want to seize the opportunity to say that we have been reading newspaper reports, especially those that I have maximum respect for like the Guardian, which put out a sensational article on the front page. That the federal government of Nigeria has spent N14 billion on national carrier and they did nothing.

Read also: Trapped funds: CBN releases $265m to airlines

“This is absurd. This is unbecoming of a paper of that caliber, to dish out lies on purpose to mislead the public. The entire amount of money spent on national carrier is around the transaction advisory services. And we came here with a memo with approval, which we dished out to the press as to the quantum of money to be spent. It was N352 million in today’s rate. And another contract of N299 million.

“We have project delivery team in place by law, Project Steering Committee in place by law, and they’re all members of very many ministries and agencies and parastatals including Labour.

“The Law didn’t say we should include Labour. But for maximum transparency, for fairness, we included Labour in this activity, and they participated fully.

“So there’s nothing secret about it. If you want anything come and ask us don’t just be pen lazy and go out there and write what you want. It is not accepted by us and by government. And they will deliver this Nigeria Air for the benefit of people.”