The meeting chaired by the Speaker of Reps, Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, CFR had in attendance, Chairman House Committee on Aviation and other House of Reps Members. Representatives of both foreign and domestic airlines in Nigeria, Representatives of Nanta lead by Chima James IHE, 2nd Deputy president, NCAA, IATA, NEMA, and other industry stakeholders. The CBN governor, the finance minister and a few key officials were absent as they were said to be attending a two day ministerial retreat at the villa
The Speaker asked IATA Rep (Dr Fatokun) to give an overview and update attendees on the reasons for the heading.
Dr Fatokun gave a pathetic and graphic position of Airlines trapped funds saying as at September, 2022 over $700million were pending unremitted. A figure which amounts to about 34% of airlines trapped funds globally making Nigeria the highest country with airlines trapped funds.
IATA Rep appealed for the government’s intervention to enable the airlines access their money for smooth and continuous operation.
Dr Obiora representing Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), who seemed totally ignorant of the agenda of the hearing, as well raging issues in the polity (with regards to the aviation subsector), painted a political colouration of the entire issue and whipped up patriotic sentiment not entirely suited for the occasion. He noted that they were not aware that there were foreign airlines trapped funds. He further suggested that the airlines should re-cycle the trapped funds in Nigeria. He also raised issues of increased fares, fares disparity, reciprocity in flight operations, etc.
Mr Onyema, Airpeace CEO, also representing AON, spoke in the issue of reciprocity as laid down in the BASA agreement. Taking a patriotic stance, he canvassed for support from government to build capacity in local airlines who can easily expand their operations to countries like the UK to further drive down the cost of tickets paid by the flying public. He called on Nigerians to be patriotic and support their own. He particularly drew reference to set of travel agents who had held a press conference, castigating the federal government instead of supporting them because the were asking government to pay the airlines money owed to them.
NANTA represented by 2nd Deputy, Chima James IHE called the attention of Mr Speaker to the agenda of the hearing, which was the issue of trapped funds. He pleaded that the Federal government should urgently look into the trapped funds for the restoration of smooth operations the travel business in Nigeria. The 2nd Deputy urged government to put measures in place to see that airlines funds are repatriated according to set and agree upon conditions.
Mr IHE further pleaded with the airlines to open inventories especially on lower fares so that the travel agents can get back to business to avoid business fore-closures and forced lay-offs of over 3,000 workers. He further, urged the airlines to stop selling tickets in USD to curb pressure on already scarce foreign exchange in the country.
Mr Speaker after hearing from all parties present acknowledged the fact that there were myriad of issues facing the Aviation industry in addition to the matter of trapped funds. These were: -high fares on portals as well as those paid by Nigerians compared
to countries flying same mileages into Nigeria,
– issue of reciprocity,
– issue of selling tickets in Nigeria in USD by some airlines.
Mr Speaker promised to call for larger forum to look at these issues. While acknowledging the dare situation faced by the airlines in terms if getting their trapped funds; while the fact that the country manager had limited decision powers on critical issues concerning their airline operations, he recommended that the airline representatives in attendance convey his appeal to their operational headquarters. His appeal was for airlines to open airline inventories especially lower inventories to travel business operators so they can access and book lower tickets for their clients as well make Nigerians buy affordable tickets as is in other countries. This was applauded by all, albeit reluctantly by the airlines.
The speaker concluded that next meeting will continue on Thursday October 20, 2022 with CBN and finance ministry officials in attendance to resolve issues of trapped funds.
Chima James IHE
2nd Deputy President