Private indigenous Nigerian airline, Air Peace, is growing and making inroads into the international aviation space. The development at this time is rare, worthy and commendable, considering the economic downturn. The usual story in this season is of businesses shrinking, dying or migrating out of the country’s shores.

However, as Air Peace grows, strives to expand into the international market and encourage other local players to follow suit, it is meeting with strong resistance from an apparent conspiracy of foreign airlines and regulators abroad who are accustomed to monopolising the Nigerian space, charging exorbitant and inordinate fares, bleeding the country of scarce foreign exchange and then getting territorial and restrictive when Nigerian operators conversely seek to venture lawfully into their markets.

On the part of international regulators and service providers, this conspiracy is said to manifest by way of stalling on granting of due access rights to Nigerian operators, despite explicit Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) which imply that if you fly into my country on stated terms, I can fly into your country on the same terms. It further manifests by way of restrictions on Nigerian operators from premium airports abroad, as well as undue and artificial delays and shoddy handling of fights of the Nigerian airlines in the then designated airports, in this case, the UK.

Furthermore, the foreign airlines operating into Nigeria, which hitherto charged cut-throat rates, are said to be suddenly knocking the bottom off the bucket of price regimes and charging lower than the cost of operations so as to strangulate the smaller and newer entrant, Air Peace.

These unwholesome and anti-competitive acts against Nigerian businesses abroad must be resisted by the Federal Government with its full might and authority, reason being that Nigeria has much to gain from the growth of local businesses at this time. The benefits to the country of growth and expansion of its aviation sector are that it will directly generate much-needed jobs for teeming countrymen in this season of lay-offs, generate even more jobs from attendant spin-offs, generate foreign exchange earnings into the nation, thus relieving government of some of the obligation of sourcing foreign exchange for repatriation by foreign airlines operating here. It will enrich the country’s trove of funds from taxes as well as inspire confidence in the country’s economic prospects and corporate being at home and abroad.

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Furthermore, aircraft of Nigeria’s indigenous airlines bear the ‘call sign’ or prefix ‘5N’ on their tail sections, which is Nigeria’s unique marker and identifier in the international aviation space. By these markings, aircraft belonging to indigenous Nigerian airlines are identified as the nation’s flag carriers, as they land and take off at airports around the world, thus advertising Nigeria’s brand, pride, prospects and its splendour hoped for.

For these reasons and more, the Federal Government must resist this foreign conspiracy of unlawful, unwholesome and anti-competitive conduct against Nigerian businesses with iron and grit.

Furthermore, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) frowns upon anti-competitive practices in the industry and assigns the conduct of initial resolution initiatives to home governments of affected businesses. This model clause has been made part of the ICAO Template Air Services Agreements (TASA), Appendix 1. to ICAO Doc 9587 Policy and Guidance Material on the Economic Regulation of International Air Transport. The purpose, according to ICAO, is “to preserve consumer welfare and ensure fair competition”.

Indicators reveal that the Federal Government of Nigeria has started exploring moves in this direction. Government must move with speed and resolve, wielding over the heads of the errant concerns its prerogative to balance, quid pro quo, the terms and conditions for foreign airlines doing business in Nigeria according to the terms and measures meted out to Nigerian operators on foreign turf. By so doing, the Federal Government would be upholding Nigeria’s rights, pride and integrity as a sovereign state and performing its obligation to indigenous businesses, thereby empowering them to grow the local economy.