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Travel agencies to storm National Assembly over $300m trapped fund

‘How govt’s negligence enhances foreign airlines’ exploitation of Nigerians’

Worried by the chaotic status of international travels in the country, travel agencies, will next week, take complaints to the National Assembly to seek legislative intervention on the foreign airlines’ protracted stuck fund crisis rocking the air transport sector.

Over 2000 travel agencies, under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), will protest the Central Bank’s withholding of about $300 million, seemingly nonchalance of the Federal Government to finding a lasting solution, and attendant exposure of Nigerian travellers to exploitative fares.

The Guardian, yesterday, learnt that about two months after the CBN released $265 million out of the $464 million trapped in Nigeria, there has been no reprieve in the crisis.

Affordable travel tickets that were earlier withdrawn by the foreign airlines in the wake of the crisis have continued to elude the Nigerian market, even as the stock funds continue to accumulate and are now more than $300 million.

President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Susan Akporiaye, earlier, said the consequence of the stuck fund was the misfortune of Nigerian travellers buying an average six-hour Economy Class ticket for between N1.5 to N2.7 million.

The Business Class variant sells at an average of N4 to N5 million – over 250 per cent spike from the rate sold in other parts of the world.

Sources told The Guardian that the matter has almost gone out of hand, with travellers, travel agencies and the entire industry in distress.

“Government’s negligence is the biggest worry for all of us. Not only has the government failed to engage the airlines and other stakeholders concerning the stuck fund, but most disappointing is the Central Bank’s comment that foreign airlines are not its priority. Really? Then, something is fundamentally wrong with us as a people and NANTA has decided to take the matter to the National Assembly next week Monday,” one of the sources offered.

Travel expert, who also doubles as the Chairman of the Airlines and Passengers Joint Committee (APJC) of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, also blamed the government’s negligence for the worsening crisis.

Bernard said the CBN’s refusal to release stranded funds or engage with the business partners amounts to an act of sabotage of the travelling public.

He said: “There is a contractual agreement with airlines to sell in Naira and get dollar equivalent in return. But the CBN is now saying that the airlines are not her priority after the carriers had sold in Naira. Even among thieves, there should be honour.

“Yet, while CBN is not giving dollars to airlines to repatriate their sales, the government’s aviation agencies keep collecting taxes and charges in dollars from the airlines. Where are the airlines supposed to get it? Why can’t the government resolve that, by ensuring that agencies collect their dues in Naira, which is 45 per cent of each airfare, to reduce the burden of stranded funds? Unfortunately, the ripple effects are all passed to the air travellers that are punished by the foreign airlines with exorbitant fares,” Bernard said.

Akporiaye earlier explained that the currently available tickets in Nigeria are premium because most of the airlines have withdrawn the affordable layers.

“Some foreign airlines are blocking travel agencies from selling their tickets on the Global Distribution System (GDS) platform. The inventories are blocked on the platform, meaning travel agencies and even airline offices cannot issue because the inventory was blocked for Nigeria.”

“The ones that have not closed inventories are restricting sales to the highest fares in each cabin (Economy, Business and First Class). You don’t even want to know what the prices are. It is just crazy and totally out of reach,” she lamented.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) earlier warned that Nigeria and other countries withholding airline funds risk a 200 to 300 per cent spike in airfares. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently released $265 million out of the $464 million trapped in Nigeria as at July 2022.

Source: guardian.ng

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