By Kenneth Jukpor
While the Appeal Court is yet to settle the fracas between Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Aviation operators over FAAN’s move to hike the cost of cargoes per kilo from 7naira to 20naira, aviation operators are lamenting fresh extortion by officials of the FAAN.
Several associations ranging from; National Union of Air Transport Employee (NUATE), Nigerian Association of Air Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC), Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) have expressed varying degrees of exploitation by FAAN.
Narrating the history of the age-long ordeal toMMS Plus, the Secretary General of NAFFAC, Mr. Alade Shabi stated that the problem started when agents had offices in the terminal.
“NAFFAC was at GAT before it got burnt and we moved to the cargo section. While we were moving to the cargo section we were asked to pay some money for erection of offices. Collectively NAFFAC members applied and we got allocation for offices and the port charge issue came up. We can say that we were the initiators of port charge because while we were at the local section there was no shed to keep our cargoes and people littered their cargoes everywhere. FAAN officials always came around to exploit us but we decided to make the payment official so that the Authority and the nation at large could benefit from the payment” he said.
He recalled that after discussing with the FAAN management on the issue, the managerial team were so impressed that they even promised to give the association executives some percentage but the executives weren’t interested because they were not going to sell out their members.
“We just wanted a better work environment. However, FAAN began to increase this port charge arbitrarily but it wasn’t what we bargained for. From 50 kobo per kilo, the fee increased to 1naira, 3naira, 7naira and 20naira. It was when they increased to 20naira that we decided to ask questions and eventually go to court. We couldn’t allow the exploitation to continue. Since 2003, we have been in court with FAAN and we have been able to keep the price at 7naira per kilo while the case prolongs” he said.
According to the NAFFAC leader, the Act that sets up FAAN only empowered it to collect monies for service rendered.
“The question is – what service is being rendered by FAAN on cargo to justify the port charge. FAAN has concessioned this function to the handling companies and these companies collect their charges. Why should FAAN continue collecting 7naira per kilo on every cargo at the airport for import and export? They also plan to introduce registration of freight forwarders and we are also fighting this at the court. Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) both register agents and when you enter the airport as an agent, you only go to the shed. We don’t go to FAAN’s office for anything so what service are they rendering to warrant a different registration exercise for agents? We have registered with a recognized association. We are registered members of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). We also registered with ground handling companies” he queried.
Speaking to MMS Plus on this issue, the Women Leader for National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) at Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA) Mrs. Patricia Agboje lamented that also collected charges from agents at the toll-gates.
“While we are contesting FAAN’s decision to increase the due per kilo at the airport from 7naira to 20naira, FAAN is also collecting monies from agents at the toll gates despite paying other FAAN dues. We believe that it is unfair to be collecting monies as toll-gate fees from agents when we still pay FAAN dues at the warehouse to clear our goods.
She revealed that FAAN’s explanation for collecting tolls from agents was that the airport had been privatized, but she maintained that that the excuse shouldn’t be accepted.
“Agents shouldn’t be made to pay unnecessary dues because the airport has been privatized. The private operators actually pay colossal sums for the concession so it shouldn’t be an excuse to place fiscal burden on agents. The sum varies depending on the vehicle. Trucks pay at least N1000 at the toll-gates while buses pay N400 or N500 depending on the sizes. Jeeps pay N400 and smaller cars pay N200 or N300” she added.
In a related development, members of the National Union of Air Transport Employee (NUATE) recently petitioned the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, accusing FAAN of incessant hike in operating charges, alleging that the charges were capable of inhibiting operations at the nation’s airports.
The petition which was signed by the union’s acting General Secretary, Comrade Olayinka Olu Abioye, stated that, “there is an industrial crisis looming within our airports between the management of the FAAN and the two handling companies comprising of NAHCO and SAHCOL over the latter’s arbitrary, irregular, exorbitant and multiple fees imposed on these companies and its workers without recourse to established rules.”
The letter continues: “Whereas we affirm and have severally advised the management of the Federal Airports Authority to engage in, and embark on increased internally generated revenue from non-aeronautical and ancillary sources, and whereas the management of FAAN has deployed its attention in this direction, in conformity with its objectives, and whereas these handling companies, being operators of passengers and cargo handling services require conducive and environmentally friendly airports to fulfil their obligations to its numerous customers, which has continued to add value to FAAN as an Airport Operator,” the petition added.
NUATE noted in the petition that it was moved to write the petition because of its commitment to promoting industrial harmony. It added that it is important that FAAN acknowledges and respects rights of its “business partners” adding that It the agency should adhere to provision for in Section ii of ICAO’s Policies on airport charges, where it was specifically stated that “consultation with airport users before changes in charging systems or levels of changes are introduced is important.”
When contacted, Managing Director, SAHCOL, Basil Agboarumi, told MMS Plus that the company has always complained about the incessant increase in charges adding that it does not augur well for business.
“We’ve been crying out even before now that the way FAAN slam tariffs on us is not favourable to business; we are happy that the union is now taking up the battle because our staff who are members of the union are also affected. However, I want you to speak with the agents and operators who suffer these charges” Agboarumi said.
Industry observers describe Nigeria as a lucky country because it has many airports and considering the pivotal role airports play in economic development of any nation, it is said that Nigeria is already well positioned to benefit from the aviation industry. However, many Nigerian airports are a burden to the FAAN, which relies on the huge revenues generated by few busy ones to maintain and sustain the unviable ones. Does this justify the excessive taxation and fiscal burden on operational airports and the operators?