Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika said the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) would take a year or two for full implementation. He disclosed this to New Telegraph in Lagos.
The minster urged Nigerian airline operators to key into the policy rather than grumbling over what he said would bring prosperity to the African continent. He explained that Nigeria was among the first 11 countries that endorsed the Yamoussoukro Decision and took a decision to open the skies for Africa sector and liberalised the industry.
He reiterated that the full execution of the pact means more jobs, development, security and more connectivity, adding that arising from that, Nigeria is a signatory to the pact.
The African Union Commission launched the first AU Agenda 2063 Flagship project, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 28, 2018 as a historic event at the African Union Summit, nearly two decades after the adoption of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision.
Sirika stated that aviation industry currently supports eight million jobs in Africa and hence SAATM was created with the aim of enhancing connectivity, facilitating trade and tourism, creating employment, and ensuring that the industry plays a more prominent role in the global economy and significantly contributing to the AU’s Agenda 2063.
His words, “The single African air transport market became an issue and Nigeria is among the 23 countries to make that solemn declaration on single aviation market and Nigeria with its population of about 173 million people will be the greatest beneficiary. By the time Nigeria was pushing for it, you and I know that we had Nigeria Airways and we thought we would take advantage of that. Now that we don’t, for one reason or the other, our airlines have not grown to such capacity”.
“We should set in motion a robust carrier that will take the advantage of this single African market to the benefits of the Nigerian people.
I believe we are on the right course believing that these private sector driven airlines become a dominant carrier in Africa because the market is in Nigeria.
“Nigeria is at a vantage position. Nigeria’s travel almost for nothing. If you talk of advantage, Nigeria is at a very vantage position to take advantage of this SAATM. As soon as it is signed, implementation begins. It will take one to two years to be operational”, he added. The minster carpeted the country’s carriers for their poor health, stressing that he was not sure they were financial healthy.
His words, “ I am not sure they are financially healthy. NCAA to my knowledge are conducting audit round the airlines at the moment and I am sure the result is not something we want to go the press with.
They refused to grow and the challenges are not government caused. It is their own making. Very soon, there will be a stakeholders meeting where themselves will be present”. He explained that the stakeholders’ meeting would afford him and the carriers the opportunity to dialogue on the situation they found themselves.
The minister stated that he would make them get their acts to focus, to re-organise, re-engineer and take advantage and be futuristic.
“They need to look at the bigger picture and bigger pie and organise themselves to take advantage of SAATM rather than to seat here while the train is moving”, he added.
On the huge debts owed by airline, the Minister disclosed that a particular airline owes one of the agencies N13 billion, adding that another had its operations grounded as a result of debts running into over N500 billion, which necessitated the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) taking it over.
He however, gave assurance that no airline would be allowed to pile up debts again because of the belief that the debts could be written off because of the people airline operators know at the corridor of power.
“Since it is over time and it was in those years of impunity that must be changed.
Those things were allowed but under this administration, it is not going to happen at all – to allow them to continue to owe debts and someone allows the debts to be waved off. No airline can call the Villa. There is no door or window that is opened in the villa for any entrepreneur to break the law and go there and get it resolved. He cannot come to the office of the Minister of DG NCAA with unclean hands to get anything resolved”.