The Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria(ATSSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees(NUATE) today shut down the Arik Air’s operations over debt totaling N12.5 billion owed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria(FAAN).
This is just as the passengers who have bought tickets to fly with Arik Air to their various destinations remain stranded at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) also known as terminal 1.
As early as 6.30 am the angry workers singing solidarity songs carrying placards with various inscription such as : If Arik Air alone is owing the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria(FAAN) N12.5 billion how do want FAAN to survive, Arik pay your debt, enough is enough, Arik Air Must pay its debt to FAAN for peace to reign, Arik Pay Your 12.4billion Debt! FAAN can no longer pay salaries, pension, staff claims due to your debt!! Debtors pay all you owe FAAN now!!! Arik if you can’t pay don’t fly!!! Arik pay your debt 12.5billon is too much”.
The union stated that it decided to shutdown the airline after all the negotiation between the airline and FAAN authority collapsed that has been ongoing over the years.
As the picketing continues, stranded passengers affected by the shutdown of Arik Air’s operations have flooded the counters of other airlines to buy tickets to get to their destinations.
For example, Air Peace counters also at GAT were filled with passengers trying to secure tickets and check-in their luggage, while more were still trooping into the terminal where the airline operates when Abelnews visited the termina. Meanwhile, all the Arik Air counters at Terminal 1 for buying tickets and check-in were shut down while stranded passengers were seen in twos and threes discussing the issue and the alternative steps to take to get their destinations.
Abelnews learnt that passengers, who were taken unawares, have started agitating for a refund from the airline to continue their journey.
Speaking at GAT, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “I have a meeting in Abuja. Been here since six for my flight and I am still here. I am devastated I don’t know what next to do and even my boss thinks I am back in Abuja. This is not about refund oh, because I will sue if I lose my job abi Arik go hire me? This one they owe”.
Also speaking another passengers who simply identified himself as Michael said, “the Arik people are not even here to give us any official word on what to do, some people who have not committed have gone to other airlines and should be well on their way but this airline just abandoned us here apart from their hiding staff here and there no one has come to say what the way forward for us is”.
Commenting on the development, the President, ATSSSAN, Comrade Benjamin Okewu stated that the unions and FAAN workers had not embarked on industrial action against the airline, but only withdrew the services they render to the airline as a result of the massive debts.
Okewu added that efforts by the government to reconcile the debts failed,
He alleged that the airline instead of paying its debts took the government to court to stop the process of reconciliation and recovery of the debts.
Okewu stated that though other airlines owe the agency, but that other airlines were servicing their debts through the reconciliation committee set up by the government.
He added that the blockade will continue tomorrow until Arik pay its debts and reconcile its account.
Also speaking, the Acting General Secretary, NUATE, Comrade Olayinka Abioye said that, ’We are engaged in picketing exercise against Arik Air over its indebtedness to FAAN in the sum of N12.5bilon”.
Abioye hinted that there a lot of pressures on the unions as the picketing was going on from the ‘powers that be” to restore services to the airline.
He posited that aviation unions did not stop the airline from operating, but only withdrew the services FAAN renders it.
Arik Air, he argued did not demonstrate any eagerness to service its debts, adding that FAAN required money to upgrade its facilities at the various airport terminals, which according to him even Arik and other domestic airlines have been complaining about.
According to him, “These are the people that go around complaining that our infrastructure are not upgraded. How can they be upgraded when an individual entity owes us N12.5 billion? We will only leave here if the airline pays at least N2 billion today as part of its debts.”
Reacting, the Public Relations and Communications Manager, Adebanji Ola confirmed the shutdown of Arik’s operations.
He made the confirmation in an online statement, titled, “FAAN Union Disrupts Arik Air’s Operations At Lagos Airport”.
Adebanji stated that FAAN workers’ union on Wednesday morning blocked the operations of Arik Air at the General Aviation Terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos and that workers of the airline were prevented from gaining access to their duty posts thereby disrupting the day’s operations.
According to him, “The action by the workers’ union is connected with the long-standing and unsubstantiated claim by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) of spurious indebtedness of the airline to the agency which is now before a Federal High Court in Lagos at the instance of FAAN”.
He stated that for several months, the management of Arik Air and FAAN have been meeting to reconcile payment accounts between the two institutions, adding that the reconciliation process was still ongoing until the latest actions by the union.
In his words, “This is not the first time that FAAN workers’ union will be taking the laws into their hands by disrupting operations of Arik Air. The current situation is deeply out of control of Arik Air and the management of the airline has been compelled to suspend all domestic operations for today. This will remain in force until such a time the unfortunate situation is resolved”.
He apologised for the inconveniences the FAAN workers’ union action may have caused its esteemed passengers, adding that the airline live to serve the needs of the people of the great nation Nigeria.
Adebanji added that the airline look forward to working collaboratively with FAAN and other aviation agencies to resolve the impasse and return to our core purpose of providing essential world class services to the people of Nigeria.