Theophilus Opaleye: Why Nigeria Must Forge Ahead With Airports Concession Plan

Nigeria is such a wonderful country with a large but motley population. You always get to meet people with different ideas and also the strong belief that they have the solutions to all problems. One only needs to visit a newspaper vendor to have a feel of it. One of the issues that have been making the rounds in the country for a while now is the concession of our airports. It has received filliped attention since the Federal Government took the bull by the horn by facilitating the concession of four nationally owned airports namely Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja and Muritala Muhammad Airport situated in Lagos, and their counterparts in Kano and Rivers states.

Consequently, there have been reactions, for and against, to this historic action by the Federal Government. A survey conducted by Guardian Nigeria to gauge the opinions of Nigerians on the planned concession showed that 79.71% of the respondents believed that the concession was ‘long overdue’. 18% thought it was ‘a scheme to enrich a select few’ and only 2.3% felt it was ‘ill-timed’. This somewhat reveals that the progressive idea of concession is something that Nigerians understand and support.

One doesn’t need a marabout to know that what works all over the world is a free market economy which enables private citizens and investors who have the clout, expertise and manpower to take charge of developmental and infrastructural projects for the overall benefits of the nation concerned. By extension, serious governments globally enter into Public-Private Partnerships which are meaningful and also devise systematic plans which they execute meticulously. That’s why it’s not only strange but unwise of Nigeria, which always tends to move towards the capitalist extreme of the economic model’s continuum, not to have optimally made good use of these fruitful opportunities. Besides, concessions have been the trend worldwide for a long while now. The world had started moving in that direction a long time ago. That largely explains why Nigeria moves at a slow pace.

Nigeria spends about two-thirds of her budget in recurrent expenditures. Out of the about 6 trillion Naira 2016 budget, 1.59 trillion Naira was voted for capital projects whereas a sum of  2.65 trillion Naira was budgeted for salaries and recurrent spending. With our dwindling revenue and the not-so-bright future of our economic mainstay, crude oil, it becomes imperative like never before to think of novel and creative ways to pass the unnecessary burden on the government over. A concession is one of the answers. The monies erstwhile used to fund these airports could be used to close the gapping infrastructural deficits evident nationwide. It can be used to build roads to ease transport, construct railway lines for viable alternatives, fund quality education and so many other progressive projects.

Furthermore, it is the raison d’être of any government to ensure that majority of its citizens are gainfully engaged. It can’t be forgotten so easily how the current government harped on their zeal and plans to create millions of jobs for Nigerians. It’s as sure as death that it will be practically impossible for the government alone to actualise this. It has to be done with the help of the private sector. By this, the abundant manpower will be adequately utilised. Therefore, it’s not out of place for the Federal Government to concession these airports as part its drive to provide meaningful employment for the teeming youth population.

Another priceless gain to come from the tardy concession is efficiency. You know maintenance and efficiency aren’t really what Nigerian government is known for. Private investors are largely after maximum profits. That’s their major drive. So, they have no choice other than to be efficient. The effective and efficient management and maintenance of the airports’ infrastructures are guaranteed in private hands. I, therefore, see no reason why we shouldn’t follow this productive path.

It is well known that a common feature of a free market economy is healthy competition. Healthy competition will drive down fares and ticket prices without necessarily making quality services go south. In other words, it leaves the passengers with options to choose from and this is a good thing for us, ultimately.

It should also be mentioned that concession will, most certainly, lead to the expansion and modernisation of the airport utility. The example of Muritala Muhammed Airport 2 comes to the fore. It was because of the concession that we were able to have a terminal that is internationally acclaimed as of standard.

Even with the high hopes and optimism, we must also be leery of not repeating the mistakes of the past. It’s not as if concessions are absolutely new to us as a nation. We have been there. It’s just quite unfortunate that the previous ones we have done in some sectors were marred with corruption and nepotism – incapable investors who knew the people in government had their way. A relatable example will be the privatisation of the distribution compartment of the power sector. Friends and families of those in power bought everything. Resultedly, we have not really enjoyed the dividends that were meant to come with the concession. This has to be circumvented in any way possible this time.

It should also be added that Airport workers and their respective unions and management should be duly consulted and carried along for a smooth and fruitful transition. If peradventure, some will be laid off, it is sacrosanct that the Federal Government give them what’s rightfully theirs. Justice is the wheel of peace and development. This will prevent unnecessary rebellion which could prove to be a bottleneck to the greater goal.

Apart from the Kano and Port Harcourt Airports recently added to the concession plans, the Federal Government is also urged to look into other regional airports in Kaduna, Enugu, Ilorin, Sokoto, Calabar, Benin, Maiduguri, Yola, Owerri and Jos. This will go a long way in giving our airports the filling they urgently require and make them run at par with international best practices.

Theophilus Opaleye is a public finance analyst based in Lagos. This article is syndicated via