Aviation workers shutdown the nation’s airports yesterday, leaving thousands of early morning travellers stranded for over seven hours.
The worst hit passengers were those that were to board flights at the domestic wings of Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja (NAIA) Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna, Benin, Uyo, Enugu and Owerri.
Also affected were airlines, car hire / limousine operators, eateries, banks, bureau de change, business centre operators as well as aviation catering suppliers and others in the flight service value chain. Experts say they lost close to N10bn.
Aviation unions had last week announced a two-day warning strike to press home their demand for the immediate release of the reviewed Condition of Service of their members, implementation of the minimum wage consequential adjustments and arrears for the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet) since 2019,
They also agitating for stoppage of the planned demolition of aviation’s agency buildings in Lagos by the Ministry of Aviation for an airport city project called aerotropolis.
The unions involved in the strike are the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), and the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation Civil Service Technical and Recreation Services Employees.
Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika, who appealed to the unions to end the strike, however warned that the Federal Government would not tolerate a breakdown of law and order at the airports.
While the strike lasted, the Federal Airports Management Authority(FAAN) advised air travellers and stakeholders to make contingency plans to avoid missing their flights and appointments.
In Lagos where flights operated at the international wing of the MMIA unhindered, domestic flights were majorly disrupted by striking union workers.
Passengers who arrived the terminals before 6am were however able to fly, but those who came after were not so lucky as the aviation union members took over major road leading to the airport. They barricaded the roads with their vehicles.
The development led to heavy vehicular traffic on Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja Under Bridge, Agege Motor Road and the access toll gate into the airport.
While motorcyclists made brisk business by conveying some passengers into the airport, many were seen with their luggage trekking to the terminals.
Policemen, air force personnel, soldiers and men of Lagos Neigbourhood Watch were, however, on the ground to ensure law and order.
The Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) were also sighted by The Nation.
Some stranded passengers, lamented the situation, saying they were at the receiving end of the “crossfire”
John Thompson, who was visibly angry, said: “Everytime there is an issue and they decide to go on strike, it is the passengers who have absolutely no business in it, that suffers.
“Like the daily problems in the country are not enough, they are adding theirs and I have nothing to do with it.”
Another passenger, Tinuke Adeite, voiced her frustration at the trend of agencies embarking on strike due to internal disputes.
“What isn’t my business with the issues they have with the authorities and in all of these, I would miss my flight.
“There are better ways to resolve issues that destabilizing the economy of the country by going on strike,” she said.
Airline operators, other business operators and aviation experts, who spoke with The Nation said they lost billions of naira to the strike.
About 1.30 pm when the striking aviation workers pulled out of the roads, the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) and MMA2, came alive with passengers queuing at the departure halls to process flights to their different destinations.
At the MMA2, ANAP Secretary-General, Abdulrasaq Saidu, said it was high time the government adhered to the terms of the aviation unions.
He said the unions were tired of the antics of the government and aloofness to their grievances.
Saidu added: “For the past seven years, it is time to free the aviation workers from the yoke of imperialism, bad governance and too much corruption in the industry without addressing workers’ welfare.
“So today (yesterday), we say, enough is enough and that is why we have this strike. The strike continues tomorrow even if the security authorities get involved. We have no arm;, we are civil.”
At the domestic wing of the NAIA, passengers were also stranded due to traffic gridlock and lockdown of the check-in halls.
The entrance to the check-in halls was also locked by the union officials, leaving many passengers stranded.
An official of FAAN, who didn’t want his name in print, said many passengers missed their flights due to the strike.
He said: “The only flights that have taken off and landed at the airport today (yesterday) are flights before 8 am. The other flights have been disrupted due to the strike.
“This action by the unions has caused confusion. Passengers are frustrated due to poor communication and assistance from airport officials and the airlines.”
The General-Secretary of Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, Sikiru Waheed, warned that the strike would be more effective today than yesterday.
Waheed said: “Day two of the strike will be more effective than what you are seeing here today(yesterday) because we only have some leverage today(yesterday) to serve as a warning to other people that are travelling.”
“So, people who need to travel tomorrow ( today ) should not book any flight because it is going to be a total shutdown. By 5 am, we will be here to shutdown everywhere.
“We are appealing to all those that want to travel that they should shelve their journey for tomorrow because it may be disrupted. It is a warning for everyone in the public.”
Sirika appeals to unions to end strike, warns against breach of peace
Also in Abuja, Aviation Minister Sirika, appealed to the aviation workers to end the strike because it was not necessary.
A statement by Odutayo Oluseyi, Head of Press and Public Affairs in the ministry, quoted Sirika as calling the unions to join hands with the ministry to make Nigeria’s aviation industry a hub in Africa.
He said the ministry had intensified efforts to meet the demands of the workers, and expressed displeasure at the strike
According to him, the strike is unnecessary as it will only increase hardship to citizens, affect flight schedules, lead to economic losses, and negatively impact the country’s global rating.
The minister stated that the grievances prompting the strike by the unions ought not to have led to strike.
He added: “It should be noted that the planned demolition of certain buildings obstructing the runway is in public interest and an administrative issue that can be sorted in-house.
“The unions should have met with management of Agencies for alternative accommodation to all affected offices before going ahead with the strike.
“On the concession of airports, the Unions are aware of global practices and for the aviation industry in Nigeria to be the hub in Africa, concession is the way to go to improve infrastructure and make the nation`s airports economically viable without loss of jobs.”
On Conditions of Service in some of the agencies, the minister said the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission “is already carrying out assessments and will soon conclude”.
“The unions should also note, if they are not already aware, that consequential adjustment of the minimum wage has been finalized and about to be paid any time soon.
“We have always conveyed this information in several conversations and meetings held with the Unions.
“The management of the Ministry of Aviation is open to continuous engagement with the unions to improve their welfare.
“However, this can only be done in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect, “ he said.
*Commercial fights to Makurdi soon
Meawhile, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has said that his administration has invested heavily to ensure that commercial flights resumed in Makurdi.
Ortom stated this shortly after an Air Peace flight landed at the civil wing of the Nigeria Air Force Airport in the state capital yesterday.
The governor said the government was able to meet the stringent conditions stipulated by aviation agencies.
He said: “It has been a long journey that has been in the making. In fact, it has taken us the better part of two years to meet the stringent regulatory requirements for the resumption of commercial aviation in our state.
“As a state government, we have invested heavily in time, goodwill , and financial resources to help to meet the NCAA’s rigorous requirements for the resumption of commercial aviation services here.”