Aviation industry experts worry about possible Middle East investment in Nigeria's airports

EYEBROWS are being raised about the potential influx of investment into Nigeria's aviation industry from the Middle East after several Arab investors indicated an interest in taking stakes in several of the country's airports.


By far Africa's largest aviation market, Nigeria has one of the potentially most lucrative industries in the world but inadequate investment and limited infrastructural facilities have ailed the sector. With a population of 180m people and a large middle class that constantly travels, the Nigerian aviation industry has long attracted the attention of international investors and airlines.


However, recent attempts to resuscitate the sector have been frustrated, with even the Virgin chairman Richard Branson, pulling out of Nigeria in frustration. Of late though, there has been renewed interest from investors from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where interested parties are looking at pouring capital into several Nigerian airports.


Some stakeholders in the aviation sector, including members of the National Assembly, are, however, worried about the development. Apparently, they are bothered because of the security implication for Nigeria and the alleged northern agenda currently put forward either by coincidence or deliberately in the concession build-up.


Earlier this month, the Federal Executive Council granted approval for the concession of the four international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. This approval, currently being worked out by the aviation ministry is the first phase of the plan to concession all the 22 federal government-owned airports nationwide.


At one of the public hearings held last Thursday, members of the National Assembly joint committee on aviation got worried about the antecedent of a country like Turkey that has lately been embroiled in political unrest, as well as serving as a channel through which arms and ammunition were smuggled into Nigeria. While the Turkish authorities have denied having a hand in the arms-trafficking saga, aviation experts are wary of future transactions with investors with Turkish interests.


One member of a civil society organisation, who was at the hearing, said some lawmakers were of the view that if the biddings were restricted to the Middle East, then it will not get the buy-in of Nigerians who will see it as coloured by a northern and religious agenda. Aviation union members also said there were keen to prevent the airports from falling into the wrong hands, which is why they demanded to be part of the concession process.