Nigerian students, parents fret as tension rises at Russia-Ukraine border - PUNCH
BY GBENGA ADENIJI and ABIODUN SANUSI
Uneasy calm is manifesting among Nigerians studying in Ukraine following the rise of crisis at the Russian/Ukraine border.
Ukraine, a Soviet republic, was once a part of the Russian Empire before it gained independence in 1991 during the split of the United Socialist Soviet Republic.
According to Associated Press, a decision by an ex-Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, to reject an association agreement with the European Union and choosing to favour closer ties with Russia sparked a mass protest that led to the president’s impeachment.
AP noted that, in 2015, a peace agreement was brokered by France and Germany, leading to the end of large scale battles that left sporadic skirmishes in their wake. At the beginning of 2022, Ukraine lamented that over 90,000 Russian troops were stationed at a site close to the border of both countries.
The Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Friday also said that number of Russian troops near Ukraine and Crimea, an annexe of Russia, was estimated at 94,300 and warned of a large escalation.
AP further reported that Russia accused Ukraine of dishonouring the 2015 peace deal – Russia required Ukraine to grant autonomy to rebel regions and offer amnesty to rebels – and criticised the West and NATO allies for providing Ukraine with weapons.
However, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, was quoted as saying that attempts to reclaim the east by Ukraine would lead to “grave consequences for Ukrainian statehood.”
The development had made countries to urge their citizens to leave Ukraine. The United States of America on Friday warned of an impending invasion of Russian forces on Ukraine and ordered non-essential staff members to leave the US embassy in Kyiv.
According to British Broadcasting Corporation, the invasion was predicted to start with the aerial bombing that could endanger the lives of citizens and make departures difficult.
The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Lithuania and Norway also directed their citizens to vacate Ukraine within the next 48 hours amid warnings of Russia’s imminent bombardment.
The Federal Government is also not left out as it urged Nigerians in Ukraine to remain calm and be security conscious.
One of the Nigerians studying in Ukraine, a part-three pharmacy student of the University of Pharmacy, Kharkov, Samuel Amadi-Okocha, said there was palpable fear and tension in the minds of people in his vicinity due to growing tension.
He noted that there was no arrangement by the government to evacuate Nigerians from the country.
Amadi-Okocha said, “For me in the city where I am, I am coping well. There is no real evacuation of Nigerians as far as I know, although some of my friends plan to leave the country soon. For now, all I know is the soldiers are at the border and a lot of countries are advising their citizens to leave the country.
The pharmacist-in-training appealed to the President, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) to emulate other countries who had requested their citizens to leave the country and to make plans towards the evacuation of Nigerians as well.
He added, “So far so good all they have done is advice us against travelling and moving at night. They advised those in the Eastern part of Ukraine to be extra careful. They also gave a link where we can put our names and numbers as well as other important information about ourselves.”
Amadi-Okocha said his family in Nigeria were worried about him, adding that he assured them to keep calm,
According to him, lectures are still being held in classrooms and online.
Also, a 500 level medical student at Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University, Enuh Williams, said that there was fear on the faces of students, adding that despite this, online lectures and physical classes still held.
He added, “It’s different from the pattern in Nigeria. We already registered our personal details on a link the embassy provided in case there is a need for evacuation.”
William, who is also the president of Nigerian students in his city, stated that the atmosphere was tense.
Also speaking, another Nigerian student in Ukraine, Oyebisi Stephen, said there was calmness at the moment in the European country.
The fifth-year medical student at the Ivano Frankivsk National Medical University however added that the growing anxiety was because of pressure from families who had loved ones in Ukraine and that US’ order for its citizens to leave the country.
He said, “As for classes, they are ongoing online. We will know more about the situation on Monday because that is when the school will make an official statement.’’
In her contribution, a third-year computer engineering student in a university in, Amarachi Nwabia, said they had heard diverse rumours about the growing tension and seeking necessary information.
She added, “Classes are online in school. My family said I should stay safe.’’
Like other students, the parents of Haruna Gandu, a sixth-year general medicine student of Ivano- Frankivsk National Medical University, are worried.
He told Sunday PUNCH that lectures were still ongoing, adding that “Our families are panicky but we have been reassuring them. I would really appreciate if provisions are made on standby.’’
Another Nigerian studying in Ukraine, Raymond Ojima, noted that there was tension everywhere in the country, stating that it building up every day.
The 500 level medical student at Ivano Frankivsk, said, “Evacuation is a must with the level at which things are going. From my own opinion and observations, nothing much has been done by the embassy. Lectures are going on but the reality of things still stand.’’
Commenting, Acting-President of the National Association of Nigerian Students in Ukraine, Eunice Eleaka, pleaded with the Federal Government to come to their aid.
Eleaka said, “We plead that the Nigerian government comes to our rescue if the situation escalates. We wish not to experience the horror which some Nigerians experienced in 2014 in Ukraine. We hope that our beloved country would do its best to ensure our safety by making available the flight that would evacuate the students as soon as possible. We are following the news, and we know that there is tension across the world, and the tension rose to a maximum in Ukraine today (Saturday) after the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, asked US citizens who are still in Ukraine to leave within the next 48 hours.
“We are also aware that diplomatic talks with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, have not been favourable so far, and troops might invade Ukraine any moment from now. We sent a letter to the Nigerian embassy in Ukraine earlier on, but we have yet to get a response. Most countries have asked for the evacuation of their citizens so everyone believes the chances of war has risen drastically since earlier on Saturday, and the majority of the foreigners who are still in Ukraine are Africans, as others left earlier under the instruction of their governments.’’
Another Nigerian studying in Ukraine, Victoria Adebayo, told one of our correspondents that their Indian colleagues informed them that their government sent a registration link to them to fill a form to know the number of students willing to go back home.’’
She added that though the Ukrainian government assured them that nothing was going to happen, they had tried to contact the Nigerian embassy to know their plans for them in case there was a crisis.
Adebayo added, “We hope that next week the government will put some plans in place to evacuate those who wish to leave because many of us cannot afford the flight fee back home. It costs about N400,000 to get a flight ticket to Nigeria from Ukraine. It is a lot of money and we have no choice but to rely on government evacuation, if the situation escalates. This is the time when our government needs to come through for us. The Nigerian government should put us in their plans like other countries are doing.’’
When contacted for comment on the issue, the Nigerian Ambassador to Ukraine, Shina Alege, stated that they were hoping for the best.
Alege said, “We are hoping for the best, as all sides to the conflict are well engaged in frenzied diplomatic discussions aimed at finding amicable resolutions to the crisis. We remain hopeful as we continue to monitor the developments and we are assuring our nationals resident in Ukraine of the needful as we urge them to remain calm. Be assured that we have been assuring Nigerians in Ukraine as well as their families in Nigeria of their safety.’’
He also asked Sunday PUNCH to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further clarifications.
Earlier, the Federal Government urged Nigerians in the European country to remain calm and be security conscious amid the growing tension.
The Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, spoke in a statement.
She assured that the Nigerian Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, was doing all it could to ensure the safety and security of all Diaspora Nigerians in Ukraine.
The NIDCOM boss went further to urge Nigerians in that country to visit the Embassy website and follow the registration process.
In that regard, a statement from the Nigerian Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, was released for necessary action relating to emergencies and concerns in the state.
The statement read in part, “In view of the current developments in Ukraine, all Nigerians resident in Ukraine and environs, including students, and their relations in Nigeria, are hereby advised to contact the Embassy of Nigeria in Kiev, Ukraine, for matters pertaining to enquiries, consular and welfare requests and emergencies on: “+380632353417; +380631954965; +380442597767; +380442581854; +380442599942; and/or [email protected]; as well as: Nigeriaklevélyahoo.com”
The statement reiterated that Nigerians in Diaspora should be vigilant and avoid unnecessary movements, especially to identified hotspots in Eastern Ukraine.
- Additional report by JANET OGUNDEPO
Why Nigeria has no national shipping line- Amaechi - RADIO NIGERIA
Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi has blamed the stakeholders in the maritime sector for the country’s inability to own a national shipping line.
Mr Amaechi made the disclosure on Friday at a thanksgiving service to mark the 71st birthday celebration of the Chairman of a popular shipping company in Nigeria, Gregory Ogbeifun, in Benin, Edo State.
The transport minister said unless Nigerians provided 60% of the investment as required by law, establishing a national shipping line would not be realisable.
According to him, the law requires that 60% of the funding be provided by Nigerians while the remaining 40% be contributed by foreigners.
He said the plan has become practically impossible due to the unwillingness of major players in the maritime industry to raise the funds.
Mr Amaechi said though a foreign firm had offered to provide 100% of the money required for setting up the shipping line, he would not grant such approval as doing so would amount to flouting the law.
“For not having a national shipping line, some stakeholders in the maritime sector think that I may not have done well. The law setting up a national shipping line says that Nigerians would provide 60% of the investment and foreigners will provide 40%,” Mr Amaechi reiterated.
“So, I went to Singapore, got a company that accepted to bring the 40% but unfortunately, till today, no Nigerian has been able to provide the remaining 60%. The company had said to me that they would bring all the 100% and hire some Nigerians as stakeholders, but I disagreed because that would amount to breaking the law,” he stressed.
Adding, he said: “There is also a company in Dubai that said they would set up the national shipping line by providing the 100% but I have told them that the law only allows them (foreigners) to provide 40%.”
His job, he insisted, was to provide a conducive environment for business to thrive, which he said he was always striving to achieve.
Writing by Fubara Pepple; Editing by Abdullahi Lamino and Tony Okerafor
Kebbi border, others remain closed 14 months after FG’s directive - PUNCH
BY Anozie Egole
Fourteen months after the Federal Government gave a presidential directive for the reopening of closed land borders, Kebbi State border and some other land gateways are yet to be reopened.
The Federal Government had in August 2019 announced the closure of land borders, citing high rate of smuggling and others as reasons.
In December 2020, the government approved the recommendation of a presidential committee to reopen the Seme, Illela, Maigatari and Mfun borders in preparation for the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Speaking with The PUNCH on Monday, the Public Relations Officer of the Kebbi State Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Nasiru Manga, cited the government’s fiscal policy as the reason the command’s border amongst others were yet to be reopened.
He, however, said the government was taking actions that were in the best interest of the country and the citizens.
“If you can remember, you will recall that all the land borders in Nigeria are closed except four which are, Seme in Lagos, Elela in Sokoto, Maigatari in Jigawa and one in South-South. So it is only four land borders that are currently and officially opened. Idiroko too is yet to be opened” he said.
“This one is a matter of the government fiscal policy. You remember the reason the borders were closed, even though the borders are still closed. You know they have started opening them in bits. On whether the border closure has reduced the security risk, I am not authorised to speak on that” Manga concluded.
Meanwhile, the newly appointed Customs Area Controller in charge of Kebbi State Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Joseph Attah, has charged officers and men of the command on the need to ensure strict compliance to government fiscal policy on imports and exports of goods.
Nigerian flag carrier to operate three weekly Lagos-Dubai-Lagos flights - THE GUARDIAN
By Wole Oyebade
Nigerian flag carrier, Air Peace, has disclosed plans to resume direct scheduled flights on Lagos- Dubai route starting from March 1.
This is as the airline is also set to expand its West Coast presence by launching flight operations into Niamey and Niger on February 25, 2022, as well as Kinshasha and Malabo in March.
Spokesperson of the airline, Stanley Olisa, said the Lagos-Dubai-Lagos flights will operate three weekly flights from its Lagos hub.
Olisa said: “We are happy to inform the flying public that in tandem with our commitment to providing more flight connectivity and meeting the air travel needs of Nigerians, we are restarting our United Arab Emirates (UAE) operations, but with Dubai as the destination, and not Sharjah. We abundantly appreciate the vital role played by the Nigerian Government in making this possible.”
The airline stated that before Q1 runs out, “we shall commence scheduled flights to Kinshasha in DR Congo and Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, to enlarge our footprints in West Africa and offer the flying public more network options,” adding that Niamey flights will operate from Abuja and Kano on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays with the Hopper jets.
Air Peace has been operating scheduled commercial flights into the UAE since July, 2019, with a plan to scale up its service delivery to surpass the expectations of air travellers, especially with the activation of its ambitious fleet modernisation scheme and a renewed commitment to unequalled customer experience.
Air Peace has also been designated by the Federal Government to fly into other international destinations such as Guangzhou-China, Delhi-India, UK and Houston-US.
Air Peace leads the industry with 20 domestic routes, six regional routes and two international destinations while it operates an increasing modern fleet of 34 aircraft, including five brand new E195-E2s and 5 Airbus 320s.
FAAN Targets N188bn Revenue Generation In 2022 - INDEPENDENT
LAGOS – The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), has proposed a revenue generation of N188 billion in the 2022 operating year, indicating 50.4 per cent increase when compared to the previous year.
This is as the agency lamented that outstanding debt by its clients especially Arik Air was affecting its performance and called on the National Assembly to intervene in order to save the agency from collapse.
FAAN also threatened to go tough on other clients like concessionaires, private terminal operators and advertisements companies who reneged on their earlier agreements, saying that it would not hesitate to terminate their contracts with the agency.
Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, the Managing Director, FAAN stated these over the weekend when the joint National Assembly Committee on Aviation visited the agency and other government parastatals for oversight functions.
According to Yadudu, FAAN was prepared to increase its revenue generation to N188 billion in 2022 as against the N125.4 billion approved for the year 2021, which indicates an increase of 50.4 per cent.
He said that the projection was arrived at with the hope that the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic would have been over, thereby leading to an increase in passenger traffic, as well as boost in the non-aeronautical revenue base of the authority as already highlighted in the 2021 budget performance.
On outstanding debts, Yadudu specifically mentioned Arik Air as a major culprit, maintaining that since the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) took over the running of the airline in February 2017, it had not paid the inherited debt.
He said: “The authority is still faced with some challenges on debt recovery, most especially on debts owed by Arik Air, which constitutes a significant portion of the authority’s debt portfolio.
“We commend the effort of the Committees on Aviation with respect to intervention so far in the recovery of Arik debts inherited by AMCON. However, we need further assistance to bring the issue to a logical conclusion as the huge debts are still outstanding.”
Besides, the FAAN boss said that as at December 2021, the agency had contributed N16.7 billion to the Federal Account as its contribution to the Consolidated Revenue Funds in spite of the effect of the pandemic during the period, but clarified that FAAN did not have operating surplus.
He regretted that this impacted negatively on its ability to adequately meet up with the agency’s obligations.
He, therefore, canvassed for the suspension of its contribution to the Federal Account, stressing that this was in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) Doc 9562 on Airport Generation.
United Nigeria targets West Coast operations, fleet expansion phase - THE GUARDIAN
By Wole Oyebade
United Nigeria Airlines has disclosed plans to begin regional operation and fleet expansion drive in the second year of its operations.
The airline, adjudged to be a commercial success in the first year of local services, shall be adding two wide-body aircraft per quarter to deepen air connectivity in the West African region.
Chairman of the airline, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, ahead of the February 12 first anniversary, said the start-up enjoyed “very productive year of client relationship” despite the biting realities of the operating environment.
Okonkwo noted that in 12 months of operating a lean fleet of five aircraft, the airline was able to unite over 260,000 passengers with their destinations safely, operating 40 daily flights across the Southern cities and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“Through this, we have created over 500 direct jobs and more than a thousand indirect jobs. We are now in the process of expanding our domestic operations to reach, in the next few weeks, Benin, Kano, Jigawa and Yola. These are part of our immediate expansion programme as we work to ensure that none of our aircraft remains on ground. They belong to the skies and that is where they must be,” he said.
Going forward, the airline shall be receiving wide-body aircraft for continental operations.
“Our plan here is to grow at our own pace. We plan that within the next 12 months, we see ourselves doubling the number of our fleets with larger passenger capacity aircraft.
“This is because it was our strategic plan to start with smaller body aircraft with 50 passenger capacity to develop and strengthen our operations. Having achieved that, we are now ready to introduce bigger body aircrafts as add-ons.”
“Hopefully, we will add two aircraft every quarter till the end of the year. That will give us the opportunity to expand our operations even beyond our borders,” Okonkwo said.
Legal hurdles await local airlines as unhappy customers pushback - THE GUARDIAN
By Wole Oyebade
•Operators seek better awareness of safe flight operations
Local airlines may be in for hard times and an uncertain future as more customers are heading to the law court to demand huge compensations for alleged abuses in the sector.
The travelling public that had for so long bottled-up complaints are letting out on flight delays, cancellations and other alleged rights violations, but in a manner that will severely hurt the beleaguered operators.
The operators though regretted the frosty relationship; they said aggrieved passengers would have reacted positively, if they understood the processes of safe flight operations.
Globally, civil aviation is a high-end and complex business set up that statutorily tries to avoid legal fireworks and its distractions. To this end, international protocol provides for internal dispute resolution mechanisms, especially between the operator and consumers, through the consumer protection department and complaint desks at airports.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) seem to have more complaint desks at airports than the number of customer grievances ever resolved. Unimpressed by the laidback disposition of regulators, dissatisfied travellers are seeking legal alternative.
This week, a civil society organisation, Disability Rights Protection Initiative, sued Dana Air Limited at the Federal High Court, Enugu, over alleged discrimination against a physically challenged passenger, Gloria Nwogbo.
The group is demanding N550 million as compensation for refusing and denying Nwogbo from boarding their airline on the grounds that she was disabled, describing the action as “inhuman, degrading and discriminatory.”
Earlier, a lawyer, Emeka Ugwuonye, declared a mission to sue Air Peace airline over seven hours of flight delay. Ugwonye demanded compensation after accusing the airline of delaying his flight, which was scheduled for 4:25 pm until 11:43 pm. He said eventually, his flight arrived in Lagos from Abuja by 12:33am after his flight was rescheduled about four times.
The lawyer narrated: “By 10:00pm, they announced that the flight had been moved again to 11 pm. Finally, the 4:25 pm flight took off by 11:43 pm and we arrived in Lagos by 12:33 am. I spent over an hour at the airport trying to find my luggage where the airline kept it. I went through an ordeal to get home by 3: 00am.
“When I sat back and analysed what happened, I saw a vicious airline operator that has total disregard for Nigerians and which could toy with my life and which put me through extreme pain and suffering. I became convinced that unless I drag Air Peace through the courts, it will continue in such vicious and abusive conduct. I have, therefore, directed our lawyers to start the process of suing Air Peace for damages. I believe this action will be in the public interest,” the lawyer said.
In November, some members of the House of Representatives tabled a N5 billion suit against Azman Air Services Limited over flight delays.
The lawmakers and other passengers were stranded at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano on September 22 on their way to Abuja. The flight was reportedly delayed from 12:30pm till 2:30pm, then 6pm, and again shifted to 9:45pm. The lawmakers eventually said they were told that they would leave by 12:15am on September 23.
In the suit dated November 1 and marked CV/2884/2021, filed before a federal high court in Abuja by Nkemakolam Okoro, their counsel, the claimants said the negligence of Azman airline subjected them to “psychological and emotional trauma, public embarrassment” and loss of legislative hour.
But the operators saw the matter differently, seeking better understanding from the litigants. The management of Air Peace, in a reaction, reiterated that no airline benefits from flight delays or cancellations of scheduled flights.
The airline explained that flights are delayed as a result of many factors beyond the control of the airline and this includes bad weather and sudden aircraft malfunctioning.
“On the day in question (in Ugwonye’s case), we had bad weather that led to diversion of flights and sudden aircraft breakdown during and in the middle of operations. We had flight delays in Sokoto, Akure, Ibadan and Kano caused by bad weather. These factors led to multiple delays and outright cancellations never wished by the Airline. It happens all over the world.
“We will never endanger the lives of our innocent passengers and our staff by flying an aircraft that suddenly develops snags or flies when the weather is adjudged unsafe just to avoid deliberate negative publicity. We would rather go out of business peacefully than to have blood in our hands. Yet, we are still sorry for every inconvenience caused to any of our passengers as a result of delayed operations. Those delays are always borne out of safety considerations more than anything else,” the airline stated in part.
Chairman of United Nigeria Airline, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, said that the airlines are operating within a very stringent operating protocol that even the travelling public need to understand for better relations.
Okonkwo said the sector has recorded one-too-many hostilities from the customers due to poor knowledge of what it takes to operate safely.
“People are always too quick to say that it (delay) does not happen in the U.S. or UK. I have personally experienced 10 hours of flight delay in the U.S. where I got only a bottle of water for the trouble. When a scheduled aircraft is not in the air, it means something has happened. We need better understanding to put an end to cases of passengers beating up airlines’ staffers and obstructing departure of passengers on other routes in protest,” he said.
Okonkwo added that besides weather and snag constraints, the local authorities should improve airport infrastructure to cope with traffic demand.
Aviation enthusiast and lawyer, Olamipo Akinnifesi, however, said that the legal option was a healthy development to bring some sanity into the air travel sector.
Akinnifesi said though some of the cases might not have a happy ending for either of the parties, it would demonstrate that incessant violations of rights are justiciable.
“I have seen cases of unruly passengers taking the law into their own hands in protest against shabby treatments by airline staffers. Some of them saw that as the only way to get back at the operator. With legal redresses, not minding the length of time involved, more people will legally push for their rights and force the airlines to behave as corporate entity and not as danfo operators. I see it as positive development,” he said.
Former commandant of the Lagos Airport and aviation security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), flayed the regulators for poor oversight of their core responsibility to the travelling public.
“First, which of the economic regulations of Nig. CARs has the NCAA been able to effectively apply? I begin to wonder why the National Assembly went to court to challenge the delay or cancellation of their flight by Azman Air instead of telling the NCAA to cancel the airline’s Air Operating Certificate (AOC) as they did in the case of the NG Eagle (ordering the NCAA to withhold its AOC).
“The lawsuit is another way to go if the NCAA, especially its consumers’ protection department, is not seeing it as its responsibility to protect customers. I hope the customers would remember to sue the NCAA along to bring the seriousness to bear on the civil aviation authority,” Ojikutu said.
Lagos blue rail line 80% completed, says LAMATA MD - THE GUARDIAN
Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) has disclosed that the Marina shoreline area of the blue Line railway project is at 85 per cent completion.
The Managing Director of LAMATA, Mrs Abimbola Akinajo, who disclosed this during the commencement of works along the shoreline area at Ebute-Ero area of Lagos, said the Marina structure would soon be completed by the contractor, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
Akinajo stated that all the piers would be completed between June and July 2022, while all the tracks would be laid in readiness for the final completion by November.
“We have been on the shoreline construction since 2021, we faced enormous challenges, we saw lots of wreckage in the sea, and also saw unexpected things even though we had done the bathymetric survey.
“We had to remove all wreckage and debris; we also had to wait for the ship house to come for us to ensure longevity of the wall which was quite high and all of these started during the second quarter of 2021.
“We have been doing the piling and any time we drive, we discover that even beneath the sea bed, there were obstructions and that is why the project has taken so long.
“From our engineering perspective, it had been a challenge and we are really happy that we are completing it,” Akinajo said.
The LAMATA boss said that the authority had completed the repair work, claimed the land and completed the piers for the continuation of the blue line.
She explained that the seawall, which had been a problem, has been moved back and the sea protections were about eight meters high.
Akinajo said that they had also repaired the sea defense to allow them complete the missing portion between the National Theatre and Marina Station. She stated that LAMATA would now complete the civil infrastructure work for the blue line railway project.
Also, the representative of the Fountain Construction Company (FCC), Mr Jubril Saba, said that the railway project required expanded area of about 300 meters into the sea.
Saba said that the declamation usually involve ship pilling, sand filling and some other concrete structures to arrive at the effect.
He said that they had discovered a lot of obstacles deep in the sea and that they went around it in order to solve the problems.
Saba said that he was optimistic that they would meet up with the first quarter deadline for test running the blue Line project.
Why Nigeria’s rail projects may fail - THE GUARDIAN
• Stakeholders Skeptical Of Securing Fresh Loan In Europe.
• $318m Paid To CCECC, $1.2b Needed For Next Phase Of Kaduna-Kano Line
• We’re Pressurising Money-lending Institutions For New Funds To Complete Projects – Amaechi.
• Chinese Loans ‘Political,’ ‘Expensive,’ Lack Sound Business Reasoning – Ataguba• ‘Govt Approach To Modernising Railway
Not Best Practice, Unsustainable’ • Loan Embargo’ll Worsen Unemployment, Living Standards – Economists
With the Federal Government’s legacy Railway Modernisation project, among other infrastructure, largely financed by loans from China, the hopes of millions of Nigerians looking forward to the ease that the project would bring to livelihoods and its impact on the economy when completed, may be dashed.
This was the conclusion drawn by transport industry stakeholders, development economists and infrastructure finance experts who reacted to the disclosure by Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, that China had stopped granting loans to Nigeria for its rail project and that government was now vigorously seeking loans from new sources in Europe.
Some of the experts expressed worry over the new stance by the Chinese government on loans for development of Nigeria’s infrastructure, saying the move will further impoverish the common man.
They argued that the move would not only add to the number of abandoned projects across the country, but would also aggravate socio-economic challenges such as unemployment and diminishing living standards confronting Nigerians.
Amaechi had told The Guardian that the Chinese government, which was providing funds for the numerous ongoing railway projects had stopped. And to avoid the projects being stalled, the government is now seeking alternative means to fund the projects.
Also, while speaking during the inspection of the Kaduna-Kano Standard Guage rail line, the minister said: “We are putting pressure on all the necessary institutions that used to give us funds. And hopefully, before May we will be able to get enough funds to complete this project.”
The Federal Government said about $318million had been paid to the contractors, China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), with the hope that by the time China finally approves the $1.2billion loan requested for the construction of the standard gauge line, the work would have reached an appreciable stage.
According to experts, the decision by China to stop funding may be connected, on one hand, with the switch by the China Belt and Road Initiative from investing in transport infrastructure development to smart investment such as digital infrastructure, 5G network, and telecommunications, among others, that do not require heavy investment. More so, as the China economy is also facing a lot of challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has limited trade relations among countries.
Stakeholders stressed that, on another hand, the stoppage of the loan may be as a result of the outcry by Nigerians amid fears that Nigeria may end up giving up its sovereignty to China due to loan terms and conditions perceived to be unsavoury.
Currently, only two railway projects have been completely financed by China. They are the Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge railway at the cost of $500million, and the Lagos-Ibadan at the cost of $2.5billion. The initial plan was for them to fund Lagos to Kano railway at the cost of $8.1billion.
Industry experts have, however, applauded China’s decision to reduce funding of the Nigeria Railway Modernisation project, describing it as the best approach for the country to fully develop its railway system.
The Chief Executive Officer, African Railway Round Table, Mr. Olawale Rasheed told The Guardian that although the minister Amaechi has good intentions for the railway subsector, the approach to building the railway was not in line with best practice and was unsustainable, adding that the Minister was not doing the right thing as regards the railway modernisation project.
According to him, the best approach is private sector involvement in the design, construction and operation of the railway.
“Railway operation is a business and not a development project. The Nigerian government must treat it as such if it must make any meaningful progress in the railway modernisation project,” he said.
Olawale noted that Egypt, Tanzania and Senegal have the most developed railway systems in Africa, which uses electric trains. He observed that the rail projects were not funded by the Chinese but private sector investors.
He said: “For instance, Brazilian government invited its private sector to identify the railway project they would want to invest in and today, there are about 41 ongoing railway projects in the country. So also in Tanzania, the government partnered with a financial institution to raise $1billion from the private sector to construct their railway.”
He noted that the beauty of private sector engagement in the sector is that they will invest, recoup their investment and also pay tax to the government, while the government’s role is to provide enabling environment for the private investors to thrive.
On his part, Chief Executive Officer of Bethlehem Rail and Chairman of Federal Government committee to unbundle the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Rowland Ataguba, said he is not surprised at the withdrawal of China from funding Nigeria railway projects as the country had been re-evaluating its approach to Africa and its engagements across the continent.
According to him, many of the loans China has been granting to the railway sector have been what you may call cheap (but ultimately expensive) or “political loans” as the loans lack sound business cases.
Alleging that in some situations, the Chinese contractors were even responsible for retrospectively writing the feasibility studies for contracts for which they had vested interest in securing or had secured, he said most of the contracts were undermined by conflicts of interest and failed to fully realise their promise.
Ataguba, who is also the Chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on the Railway Bill and the National Transport Commission Bill in the House of Reps, while reacting to the government’s approach of the West for the credit facility, said Western conditions are more stringent and take more time to make shovel ready. He said loans from the West were, however, more durable for the African people and China would be better served by adopting similar criteria.
He added: “The West, who are no angels themselves, had gone to town accusing China of debt-trap diplomacy in Africa. But it was not until Sinosure, China’s state-owned insurer lost a whopping $1bn from underwriting the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway and Tanzania’s then-incoming President Magafuli cancelled multi-billion dollar contracts awarded to Chinese contractors, that China realised it had a big problem on its hands.”
He pointed out that the problem of the existing contracts is that the government signed commercial contracts with contractors, mainly from China, without caveats on the funding. So, now that China Exim funding is not forthcoming, we have left shopping elsewhere for loans. “The problem is US Exim will not lend you money to give to a Chinese contractor. Neither would Standard Chartered, Credit Suisse or even HSBC. It’s a self-inflicted quagmire.”
Ataguba noted that the impact on the economy could be significant as can be seen from the slowing down of the pace of business activities hitherto ascribed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Olawale said government’s plan to approach European countries to fund railway projects may not yield much fruit as most of them are cash-shrunk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the best bet is the private institutions like Siemens, the largest railway construction company in Germany, Coleman and several others.
He maintained that for the private sector to thrive, it was important for the government to amend the Railway Act as no private investors will want to invest in an opaque environment that is not in line with modern-day realities.
Some economic experts attributed the development to both political and economic reasons. Director, Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), Godwin Ighedosa said that the Chinese government’s decision to stop further loans was informed by political and economic reasons.
He explained that China was aware that the country is edging towards an election year, hence they are being careful to grant more loans while watching what the next leadership will stand for. “It is only wise on their part to walk on the side of caution while evaluating their position as they look at the political environment,” he noted.
On the economic side, Ighedosa argued that “Nigeria might have borrowed too much based on the size of her economy and capacity to pay, but you know, borrowing too much is relative, are we borrowing for consumption or for infrastructure development that will reverse all economic situation of the country? You have to also look at the capacity to pay back.”
Professor Ajayi Omo-Ogun of the University of Calabar, Cross River State, said the option for Nigeria depends on the terms of the loans it has entered into in the first place.
“If the government have some specific clauses that allow it a source for loans from other countries to complete ongoing projects, that may be fine. If not, the country may be in mess. There is no doubt that some of these contract agreements are shrouded in questionable terms that may not augur well for the country,” he said.
An economist, Johnson Chukwu said the willingness of China to grant concessionary loans to African countries is mostly driven by the prospects or understanding that China will gain access to critical mineral resources.
He stated that where or when such access is denied or withdrawn, China losses the appetite for granting of these concessionary loans.
Chukwu, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Cowry Assets Management Limited, pointed out that it will be very difficult for Nigeria to access similar loans from western countries given the strict governance standard imposed by the European and American governments on bilateral and multilateral loans, which Nigeria at present is unlikely to meet.
According to him, while Chinese loans come with minimal conditions obviously due to compensatory benefits, western countries insist on a high level of transparency, competitive bids and value for money as well as thorough social, economic and environmental impact assessment.
“Unconfirmed report has it that China decided to stop further disbursement of loans granted to Nigeria after our country revoked the production sharing contract between NNPC and Addax Petroleum, a company acquired by China for the sole purpose of the contract it had with NNPC. So basically, China had their eye of juicy contracts involving crude oil lifting as a reward for the concessionary loans she has been extending to the Nigerian government.”
He insisted that options available to the federal government are very few, considering that they do not have the financial resources to continue with the execution of these projects.
ON options available in view of the development, the Federal Government may have started exploiting the possibility of tinkering with its memorandum of understanding with its Chinese partners to salvage the working relationship with them, The Guardian learnt at the weekend.
The country’s contractual arrangement with the Asian giant is built on the engineering, procurement and construction plus finance (EPC+F) model. EPCF is a Chinese traditional route to the international infrastructure market. While it helps the country to take charge of projects from start to finish, including funding, it does not give them full operating rights. Experts said this model, coupled with the legendary failure in public infrastructure management in Nigeria might have left China, which is also battling a financial crisis triggered by failing property, wondering if Nigerian infrastructure projects are a priority to them.
Sources close to the discussion said China is gradually losing confidence in the ability of the country to manage the projects efficiently and be able to offset the facilities extended to the country. A source said China is concerned about the rising debt profile of the country. Hence, they are reviewing their relationship.
Back home, China is currently prioritising its relationship. The country is struggling to rescue the economy blighted by Evergrande crisis. In the last quarter of last year, Chinese property developers faced $10.2 billion in offshore debt. The figure is almost double this quarter, analysts have said.
A professor of economics, Ken Ife, told The Guardian, yesterday, that China could not close its eyes against facilities it is not sure would be repaid when due, hence the re-assessment of the Nigeria facilities.
If China pulls the rug, Ife said there are options before Nigeria. But he is sure Nigeria can stem the tension caused by the crisis of confidence by changing the contract to build, operate and transfer (BOT) to build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) to give the Chinese companies more stake in the projects.
“BOT and BOOT will give them more confidence that they will recover their money. That is what I feel will make a difference. In Mozambique and Zambia, they seized their seaport and airport for failing to honour their agreement. They took over those facilities to operate. Why wouldn’t you have a design abinitio that allows them to run the facilities for a period of time to recoup their investments?”
“The challenge is that these guys don’t have the confidence that we would be able to run the facilities efficiently and pay back the debts,” he said.
In the event that the government is unable to salvage the relationship with China, the government is open to exploring other sources. Already, the government is said to be in discussion with Standard Chartered Bank and other lenders for assistance. But another economist, Dr. Chiwuike Uba said what mattered was the conditionality of offers and economic viabilities of the projects involved.
He also called for proper cost and benefit analysis of the projects, noting that funding is the least if the associated issues are sorted out.
American Airlines flight forced to divert after passenger tries to open cockpit door - ABC
An unruly passenger attempted to enter the cockpit of an American Airlines plane on Sunday, forcing the scheduled flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to divert to Kansas City, the airline said.
An unruly passenger attempted to enter the cockpit of an American Airlines plane on Sunday, forcing the scheduled flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to divert to Kansas City, the airline said.
"He's trying to get in the cockpit," the pilot told air traffic controllers. "We've got four passengers now trying to contain this gentleman."
According to accounts from those on board, passengers held the man and eventually a flight attendant used a coffee pot to subdue him as the plane descended.
"We have two armed people on board that are securing him right now," the pilot explained.
American Airlines said in a statement that "the flight landed safely at MCI at 2:28 p.m. local time, and law enforcement was requested to meet the flight on arrival."
"We're grateful to our crew members, who are consistently dedicated to the safety and care of our customers and who handled the circumstances with the utmost skill and professionalism," the airline added.
The FBI in Kansas City confirmed the man had been taken into custody, but was unable to comment further due to the "ongoing matter."
Authorities have not released his identity.
Sunday's incident is just the latest in a troubling spike of unruly passenger cases with airlines reporting a staggering 6,375 reports of misconduct to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since January 2021.
The agency is still enforcing its zero-tolerance policy for in-flight disruptions which could lead to fines as high as $52,500 and up to 20 years in prison.
In November, the FAA revealed some unruly passengers could start to face criminal prosecution after establishing an information-sharing protocol with the Department of Justice.
ABC News' Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.