Presidency, VIPs Now to Pay at Airport Tollgates After N10bn Loss

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•Aviation sector gets approval to procure N4.2 billion aircraft recovery equipment

•Says cybersecurity levy suspended for review 

•FG to transform infrastructure, housing sectors

•Targets N20trn pension fund for devt 

•To provide 48-hour visa service for investors 

•Urges labour not to derail power sector transformation plan, to look into electricity tariff hike

CHIGOZIE AMADI

The Federal Executive Council (FEC), yesterday, at the end of a two-day meeting, took some far-reaching decisions, including that the president, vice president, and other top government functionaries would start to pay access fees or the e-tag at all the 24 federal airports across the country.

The decision followed a revelation at the meeting that the federal government had been losing 82 per cent or about N10 billion revenue that ought to accrue from airport tollgates.

The council also approved a memorandum for the procurement of aircraft recovery equipment, designed to respond to occasions of breakdown of aircraft from the runways, as recently experienced in Lagos.

The aviation ministry received FEC’s approval for the procurement of equipment at the cost of N4.2 billion, expected to be completed within 12 months.

Other decisions taken at the FEC meeting included that the recent suspension of the controversial cybersecurity levy was done in order for the policy to be properly reviewed.

FEC approved an initiative aimed at transforming the country’s infrastructure and housing sector, and targeted N20 trillion pension fund for infrastructure development.

In the same breath, FEC announced plans to streamline its visa regime so that applicants, who wanted to invest in Nigeria, could obtain visa within 48 hours.

FEC appealed to organised labour not to derail its transformation plan for the power sector, even as it promised to look into labour’s demand for reversal of the electricity tariff hike.

Aviation Sector

Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Management, Festus Keyamo, was the first to hint at some of FEC’s decisions, during the gathering presided by President Bola Tinubu at State House, Abuja.

Keyamo said when his ministry presented a memorandum detailing the financial loss from the exemptions, FEC approved that all exemptions for very important personalities (VIPs), with regard to payment for access into airports in the country, be cancelled,.

He lamented that because of the exemption, which the VIPs had explored to escape paying what was due to government, the larger part of the actual projected revenue was lost.

The minister said the council mandated the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), George Akume, to send out a service-wide circular, informing all concerned of the cancellation of the exemption, adding that his ministry would follow up on that circular with another memorandum.

Keyamo stated, “No more exemption. When we came to office, we met a tradition on the ground where at the end of the year, all manners of VIPs would approach us for what they call complimentary e-tags or complimentary stickers, whereby you see them coming into our airports nationwide. They don’t pay the access fees.

“They don’t pay for parking, they don’t pay for essential services at airports, and they are VIPs. And I told myself and my team, I said not under my watch. It will not happen.

“If this tradition has been existing for years, I will not allow it to happen, because it is inconceivable that in our country, it is the VIPs that don’t pay for services but it is the poor men that pay for services.

“The VIPs were supposed to have money to pay for services, but they compel poor men to pay for services and I said no. So, I got my team together, I said we need the backing of Council to compel everybody.

“In fact, guess what? Our memo says with the exception of the president and the vice president, and the president overruled me and said he and the vice president will pay, he said everybody.”

The minister added, “Let me give you the shocking statistics. The negative figure that we get at the end of the day from the complimentary e-tags is 82 per cent in the negative. In other words, where we are supposed to have a 100 per cent contract, the e-costs from these e-tags that we print, it is only 18 per cent that we now end up selling.

“That is how bad it is. Eighteen per cent and 82 per cent of these e-tags are given out free of charge to VIPs. So, imagine the loss at my sector and I ask myself, which other sector will I go to that they give me anything free?”

Keyamo also said, “I’ll give another example. In one of the access gates, based on the count of the barrier going up and down, we are supposed to be making N250 million or N260 million from that gate every month.

“That gate, because of exemptions, the return is less than N100 million every month. That also, of course, breeds corruption because now you cannot track, you cannot have the audit trail of those free tags that you now give to our people to give out to people.

“So, it was approved that the SGF should send a system-wide circular to everybody. We are going to also write to everybody, be it in the judiciary, the legislature, the executive, the military high command.

“They can buy for their personnel yearly. You don’t have to pay every time you pass. Buy the yearly tags for all your officers. You have the money, pay us, so that we can improve services at the airport.”

On the approval for the procurement of aircraft recovery equipment, Keyamo said, “We got approval for that as part of ICAO’s requirements in the sum of N4.2 billion and a fraction, inclusive of VAT, with a completion period of 12 months to supply and also to train the handlers of these equipment to handle them and remove disabled aircraft from our runways.”

Governance and Leadership

Addressing the recent suspension of the controversial cybersecurity levy, the Information and National Orientation minister, Muhammed Idris, said, “The cybersecurity levy has been suspended. It is undergoing review. It has been put on hold for now.”

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had recently issued a directive to all banks and financial institutions about the implementation of a cybersecurity levy on all electronic banking transactions.

This new levy, set at 0.5 per cent of the value of every electronic transaction, was introduced in response to escalating concerns over cyber threats, and it followed the guidelines of the recently enacted Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) (Amendment) Act 2024.

CBN said the measure was crucial for enhancing the security framework of financial operations across the country.

However, the levy drew criticism from businesses and the general public over fears that it could worsen the country’s already dire economic situation.

Idris also hinted at plans to streamline the visa regime so that applicants, who wanted to invest in Nigeria, could obtain visa within 48 hours. He said it was part of the decisions reached at the end of the two-day FEC meeting.

He said the review was necessary to foster ease of doing business on Nigerian soil.

According to him, a tripartite committee has been setup to work towards the actualisation of the initiative.

Idris stated, “Now, the Federal Executive Council has noted that our visa processes are becoming cumbersome and this is not encouraging investors to come in easily because, as the President has indicated, the ease of doing business is also tied to the ease of visa application.

“Therefore, the FEC has set up a committee to look at our visa processes to reduce the cumbersome nature of these visa processes, meaning that those investors or tourists who want to come into Nigeria will find it a lot easier to go into this country, provided they follow all the laid down processes.

“This includes the e-visa platform, which has already been discussed. The federal government is also mulling the idea of every visa application being processed within the next 48 hours.”

Economy and Infrastructure

The initiative, aimed at transforming the country’s infrastructure and housing sector, was tailored to meet the urgent demand for critical infrastructure and affordable homeownership, fostering job creation, inclusive growth, and long-term productivity enhancement.

It will unlock private-sector funds, which Nigerians could access for 25-year mortgages at low interest rates to realise their dream of owning homes.

The federal government also outlined plans to tap from locally available funds, such as pension and life insurance, to develop infrastructure in the country.

Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Wale Edun, while briefing newsmen, said there was over N20 trillion of such funds available in the country.

Edun said, “Nigeria is resilient, Nigerians are resilient. And the fact is that even before we start looking to foreign investors, we start looking to foreign funding, there is available in Nigeria, long term funds to fund infrastructure projects, and it’s within the pension, the life insurance and investment fund industry, generally.

“There is upwards of N20 trillion available, and much of it is in short term funding that doesn’t need to be. Pension money is long term. People save over their lifetime for their pension.

“And so, in conversation, in consultation, collaboration and cooperation with the private sector, we are now able to announce and with the full knowledge and support of all parties, that there will be an initiative to fund growth through investment in infrastructure, including housing, provision of mortgages, long term mortgages, 25 year mortgages at relatively low interest rates.

“Initially, of course, the government will stand back and provide some support, particularly in this era of high interest rates, but eventually as interest rates come down, there should be less role for the government through providing, for example, guarantees and so forth.

“So, we can look forward to these huge funds being leveraged with the expertise, the ability, the capacity of the private sector, partnering government to drive economic growth.”

Edun stated further, “On the supply side, construction of houses will be funded. On the demand side mortgages will be made available so that those constructing houses have an outlet and Nigerians who are saving so much by way of pension funds, have the added bonus of access to affordable mortgages.

“That really is the long and short of this initiative and you also as much as anybody else can understand and see what it means in the construction industry to do for the country.

“That is the plan, that is the target that is the hope. And in this particular case, you have the best and the brightest that Nigeria has to offer, putting their minds together and committing to achieve the goals.”

Edun, spoke against the backdrop of Tinubu’s macroeconomic reforms, “which are necessary and could not be delayed a moment longer.” He said the reforms were still on and were beginning to yield the desired results.

Edun added, “They were already delayed. Those reforms, which are still in process, and which are beginning to give benefits in various areas, particularly in terms of trying to stabilise the economy, the exchange rate, bring inflation down, and eventually get interest rates down.

“But on the other hand, Mr. President has been consistent and he has also been commended, I must say, both around the world, for the fact that he is committed to intervening on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable in order to ease the pains of this necessary reform. But at the same time, given where we are in terms of stabilisation, it is time to focus on economic growth.

“And one of the key drivers of economic growth is investment in infrastructure, in housing, power, rail, roads, water transport, even technology. These are key drivers of economic growth.

“They increase products. When you invest in them, you get increased productivity, you get economic growth, and you get job creation, which reduces poverty, and that is the strategy.

“So, it’s two pronged and we’re not pivoting towards this all important growth and you say where were the resources come from?”

Power Sector

Minister of Power, Bayo Adelabu, assured labour unions that the demands they placed before government during their Monday protest were being considered.

Adelabu stressed that the federal government had noted their grievances, received their demands, and would be engaging further with them, adding that the Tinubu administration is a listening government.

He stated, “The first question was about the recent labour unions’ peaceful protest with regard to the recently increased tariffs for Band A customers in Nigeria’s electricity supply industry.

“Let me first make it abundantly clear that we are in democracy, so there are fundamental human rights. I cannot deny people their rights. It’s the right of labour to protest peacefully and to come up with their demands, from the perspective they saw what we did.

“It is clearly allowed. It is legitimate and it is understandable. So, we cannot stop them from organising a peaceful protest or laying down their demands. Let me make that clear. President Bola Tinubu administration is also a listening government.

“We have heard their demands, we’re going to look at it, we’ll make further engagements and I believe we’re going to reach a peaceful resolution with labour because no government can succeed without cooperation, collaboration and partnership with the labour unions.

“So, we welcome the peaceful protest and I’m happy that it was not a violent protest. They’ve made their positions known and government has taken in their demands and we’re looking at it.

“But one thing that I want to state here is, from the statistics of those affected by the hike in tariff, the people on the road yesterday, who embarked on the peaceful protests, more than 95 per cent of them are not affected by the increase in the tariff of electricity.

“They still enjoy almost 70 per cent government subsidy in the tariff they pay because the average cost of generating, transmitting and distributing electricity is not less than N180 today.

“A lot of them are paying below N60, so they still enjoy government’s subsidy. So, when they say we should reverse the recently increased tariff, sincerely it’s not affecting them. That’s one position.”

Adelabu, however, appealed to the labour and the entire populace to be patient with the administration in its strategy to restructure the power sector into a standard and more efficient sector, which delivered the desired services to all Nigerians.

He said the current administration was aware of the decaying state of the country’s power sector, which had been so for almost 60 years.

But Adelabu said the plan of the Tinubu administration was to correct the situation.

He stated, “My appeal again is that they should, please, not derail or distract our transformation plan for the industry. We have a clearly documented reform roadmap to take us to our desired destination, where we’re going to have reliable, functional, cost-effective and affordable electricity in Nigeria.

“It cannot be achieved overnight because this is a decay of almost 60 years, which we are trying to correct. Nobody promised us or assured us that the road will be smooth. We knew it’s going to be rough, but we must weather the storm, which is going to be temporary.

“It’s a lot of sacrifice from everybody; from the government’s side, from the people’s side, from the private sector side. So, we must bear this sacrifice for us to have a permanent gain.

“I don’t want us to go back to the situation we were in February and March, where we had very low generation. We all felt the impact of this whereby electricity supply was very low and every household, every company, every institution, felt it.

“From the little reform that we’ve embarked upon since the beginning of April, we have seen the impact, that electricity has improved and it can only get better. So, I’m appealing to everybody that one should not toy with this.

The power ministry, yesterday, got approvals for the three memoranda it presented before the FEC, all aimed at strengthening the country’s power infrastructure nationwide.

Adelabu said the first approval was for the procurement of 10 transformers and 10 reactors for the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) at a total cost of $4.8 million and N102 million, respectively.

He said they would enhance the optimal performance of the national grid, reduce the risk of electrical shock and equipment damage, and protect personnel from the effects of high voltage.

He stated, “The second approval is for the construction of a 93-kilometer transmission lines at Oji River/9th Mile for the 132 KV double circuit transmission line, at a cost of $33.9 million and N10.1 million naira.

“This project will stabilise the national grid and expand its capacity, in line with the national grid expansion plan and the Presidential Power Initiative to increase the end-to-end capacity of the national grid.

“The third approval is for the supply and installation of 15 units of emergency restoration systems for 330 KV and 132 KV transmission lines, to enable the quick fixing of vandalised and damaged power infrastructure, valued at $14 million.

“This is a response to the impact of vandalism on power transmission assets, particularly in the North-east region, where there has been a blackout for the past two weeks due to vandalism.

“The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) is working to fix the vandalised assets and restore normalcy to the region by the end of the month.

“The emergency restoration system will ensure 24/7 uninterrupted power supply, and the government is committed to ensuring the stability, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness of power supply, as well as planning for future growth.

“Overall, these approvals demonstrate the government’s commitment to addressing the challenges in the power sector and providing reliable power to citizens, which is critical for economic growth and development.”