Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has appealed to foreign airlines to bear with the country over difficulties in repatriating funds that are still stuck in the economy.
Sirika, in response to fresh call for government to come to the airlines’ aide, said the situation is generally dire and demand understanding of all parties concerned.
In a related development, travel agencies in the country have urged the Federal Government to consider a merger of the ministries of aviation and tourism, as one of the strategies to promote efficiency and bail Nigeria out of recession.The agencies, under the aegis National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), said there are many countries that already have aviation-driven tourism as the mainstay of their economy and Nigeria should take a cue from their exploit.
It would be recalled that about $600million belonging to the foreign airlines was stuck in Nigeria prior to the introduction of the foreign exchange flexible policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria last June. With the policy and attendant devaluation of naira, about 40 per cent of the stuck funds were lost by some airlines that have repatriated till date. It was, however, gathered that part of the funds still remain trapped with the dollar hike and scarcity.
Addressing members of NANTA, Sirika said the airlines must understand and support Nigeria in this “trying time”. While he admitted that their exit (Iberia, United among others) from the country might be due to commercial consideration, rather than a show off with Nigeria, the minister said the airlines should also give Nigeria a chance to get out of recession since they have had it good in the past.
He said: “You will know your friends when you are in difficulty, so the foreign airlines should now bear with Nigeria at this trying moment which will not last forever.”
Expressing the travel agencies’ position to the minister, President of NANTA, Bernard Bankole, said that Nigeria can quickly get out of economic recession if tourism is married to aviation, a progressive partnership and policy decision that has helped other nations in the world to rebound on all indices of development.
Bankole said: “NANTA is embarrassed by the look of our airports and the situation of our aviation sector today because Nigeria never has truly paid attention to the huge benefits that bound in tourism, hence we urge you to please do all you can to bring the tourism portfolio to the aviation sector so that Nigeria can power domestic tourism and grow the huge potentials of Nigeria as a global tourism destination.”
He observed examples of African countries like Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya that have powered their tourism economy through key attention and support to their national airlines. In addition are Asian tourism economic powers of United Arab Emirates (UAE), Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and China that have pushed aviation cum tourism infrastructure to the front burner of their economic aspiration.
Continuing, he said: “We are tired of the lip service paid to tourism and aviation development in Nigeria. As key players in Nigeria aviation downstream sector, we have seen what aviation powered tourism agenda has done for other countries and Nigeria cannot allow other Africa countries to overshadow us and use our failings to gain ground ahead of us in this business,” Bankole said.
The agencies also tasked the aviation minister to look into the issues of repatriation of trapped funds of foreign airlines, the state of Abuja and Muritala Mohammed International airports, Aviation Bank to help domestic airlines and the NANTA Act to address issues of professionalism in the travel trade business.
Sirika assured the travel agencies that aviation is dear to the heart of President Buhari, nothing that the committee for Nigeria Airways was the first national assignment pushed forward by his administration.
He said: “I totally support your call for aviation to drive tourism and it is not because I want to add the portfolio of tourism to what we were appointed to do here but the truth must be said that air transportation opens up a nation to many positive developmental indices to which tourism is a major issue.”