By Ayoola Olaitan
Some laws and punitive actions in Nigeria are laughable, giving leeway for various industry operators to flout the laws with the assurance that the punitive fines are affordable.
This point of view, though ludicrous, has seen several bank Chief Executives trample on citizens, violating directives of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). While banks roll out frivolous charges without prior notice earning billions from the act, CBN whine and place punitive measures and fines in the region of few millions. Alas, the banks feign remorse and pay the fine even as they smile home with huge profits from the act.
This disposition has been adopted in the maritime sector by shipping companies and terminal operators. It is also being exploited in the nation’s aviation sector.
The problem is similar across all sectors. It is as a result of obsolete laws and dictates which don’t reflect the economic state of the nation today.
With the lockdown in Nigeria following the COVID-19 pandemic, the aviation industry has taken a major hit even as hope rises for domestic flights to resume operations soon. Airports and the airspace of the country had been shut from commercial activities since March by President Muhammadu Buhari, as part of efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Despite the ban on commercial flights, a British carrier breached the aviation law. The British carrier, a Legacy 600 aircraft belonging to FlairJet with registration G-ERFX was impounded and fined N1 million by the Federal Government.
The British carrier which visited the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos carried out commercial flight operations despite the ban, walking away with a fine of N1million which is less than the air fare for just two passengers.
When this incident occurred, it was an opportunity for the nation and its Ministry of Aviation to show mettle with commensurate punishment. The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika also indicated that this would be treated seriously with this tweet about the British carrier impounded; “Flair Aviation, a UK company, was given approval for humanitarian operations but regrettably we caught them conducting commercial flights. This is callous! The craft is impounded, crew being interrogated. There shall be a maximum penalty. Wrong time to try our resolve!”
One would think that the fine after the announcement would be commensurate and nip this act of misbehavior by the British carrier in the bud, but is unfortunate that only a meager fine of N1million was meted out.
Can Nigeria count on such monetary penalties as punishment or deterrent for those who violate regulations? When the monetary penalty is less than the profit gained whilst violating the regulations, airlines will violate them, and gladly pay the fine.
The telecommunications too are not left out of this mischievous act, they weigh the penalty and the profit to be made by violating the rules. Subsequently, they make a business savvy decision by violating and pay the fine with proceeds from the misdemeanor.
As we look forward to a future of boundless opportunities after the COVID-19 pandemic, there is need to reflect on how to strengthen the nation’s aviation laws, especially the Civil Aviation Act of 2006 act, to achieve a better regulatory service in the industry.
There are still fines in our laws that are defined in an era when our currency had more value than it does today. The cost of a dollar to a naira today shows how devalued the naira is, but the fines remain the same.
This N1million fine has given various reactions and perspectives with the aviation stakeholders airing diverse opinions on what the fine could have been translated into rather than what was fined.
Speaking with MMS Plus newspaper on this, the General Manager, Public Relations of NCAA, Mr. Samuel Adurogboye opined that some sections of Nigeria’s Civil Aviation Regulations were violated and the fine is in accordance with NCAA law.
According to him, “When a violation occurs, the penalties stated in the NCAA Act 2006 are what would be applied. Whether the violation is trivial or enormous, there is a law so the punishment can’t be outside what is stated in the law. The penalty is based on what the law states”
The weightlessness of the fine is more shocking at the moment when the aviation industry loses N17bilion monthly having spent close to three months under a lockdown with several jobs threatened.
The Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative and Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Securities, Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd) told our correspondent that the fine imposed should have been charged based on the current dollar rate.
According to him “The time the offence was committed should be equal to the dollar rate of the period. The naira value then is supposed to be used to multiplied by the dollar rate now to get the fine that would be appropriate for today”
“The money should have been charged based on the dollar rate, in 1988 or so, the government said the flight ticket fare should be valued based on the prevailing dollar rate. So, if the fine for the offense is 500,000 then it should be in dollars. That was the mistake made concerning the law, the amount of fine should be charged based on the dollar rate now”
Also, speaking with MMS Plus newspaper the Director, Press and Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, Mr. James Odaudu claimed that no airline would want to commit a crime or offense because the penalty or fine is affordable.
He pointed out the consequential effects that await such airlines in the global aviation space, noting that their reputation could be jeopardized.
It is shocking that the one million is what the NCAA law states in the Sub 36 of the 2006 Act. This shows dysfunction at the heart of the NCAA and the need to review the law.
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer, CEO of Belujane Konzult, Mr. Chris Aligbe posited that the government fine was in line with the aviation law, adding that no airline would want to violate the Nigeria airspace.
According to Aligbe, “It doesn’t work that way that airlines will want to violate the ban because they feel the fine is affordable. What the government has done is to make it clear no airline can violate the law and go scot-free, if the government realizes that airlines want to start violating the law the government will make sure no airline flies.”
With the numerous obsolete penalties in this law, it is time to overhaul that aviation regulation.
The Minister has also hinted this via his Twitter handle stating that “Review of our laws is part of our roadmap approved by Mr President in 2016. The bills have passed 2nd reading at NASS. I championed the first review whilst at NASS, 2006. This will be the 2nd review since 1963 when Jaja Wachukwu was minister, such a shame! Will get it right.”
Recall that last year, Turkish Airlines was suspended by the federal government from the Nigeria air space for treating Nigerians disrespectfully, the airline was only a scapegoat of this unruly behavior as other airlines do the same, especially among the international carriers.
The fact that the Ministry of Aviation has hinted that all aviation laws are in process of review, is a welcome development; however, aviation industry observers have admonished the Ministry to speed up the process.