Federal Government, yesterday, vowed it would sanction foreign airlines selling tickets to Nigerians in dollars, stressing that the practice violates the country’s laws.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, disclosed this while fielding questions from reporters after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Sirika said Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) officials have already been directed to protect the interest of Nigerians, adding that no violator will be spared.
The minister said reports reveal some of the airlines were refusing naira and charging fares in dollars, while others blocked local travel agencies from accessing their websites.
He said: “That is a violation of our local laws. They will not be allowed. The high and the mighty among them will be sanctioned, if they’re caught doing that.
“NCAA had been directed to swing into action. And once we find any airline violating this, we will definitely deal with them. They blocked travel agents from access. They also made only expensive tickets available.
“Our regulators are not sleeping. We have a very vibrant NCAA. Once they find any airline guilty, that airline will be dealt with because we need to protect our people. It is according to our agreements; what we have signed, and this is according to international convention.”
He said: “They should also desist from writing us and putting things on social media. They should go through diplomatic channels, if they want response from the Federal Government.”
Sirika noted that foreign airlines made over $1.1 billion from Nigeria since 2016, saying this could have been retained in the country if they were local airlines.
He recalled that the airlines remitted over $600 million to their home countries in 2016, while over $265 million out of about $484 million was also released to them this year.
He said government is trying to keep the airlines happy by ensuring their money does not pile up again, and that while the country needs their services, the airlines also need the Nigerian market.
The minister also debunked a report that the Nigeria Air project has expended over N14.6 billion of government funds, despite having only five percent stake in the airline.
He explained that government only spent N651 million (N352 million and N299 million) for what he called transactional advisory services approved by FEC, but yet to be disbursed, as the consultants have not yet finished their work.
He added: “There’s also accusation as to secrecy in what we’re doing. Nigeria, I’m very proud to say, is the first country, and perhaps the only, to put up a portal where all public private partnership activities are being uploaded on daily basis. People should not be pen lazy, not to research, not to ask questions in view of the Freedom of Information Act.
“Every single query to me on my desk, using Freedom of Information Act, I have always obliged. There’s nothing secret about government work anymore. And we’re not keeping anything in secrecy.”