30 March 2016, Agency Report — The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, Eurocontrol, has launched strong-arm tactics against the Nigerian government in a bid to force the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to release an estimated $1.3billion foreign exchange allegedly held by the bank.
Industry sources revealed yesterday that the major European airlines, especially British Airways, may have instigated pressure on Eurocontrol to collect a disputed $750,000 Eurocontrol navigational charges allegedly owed by the Nigerian main carrier, Arik Air.
The goal is to take a pound of flesh from the federal government for refusing to release the foreign airlines’ funds held in the CBN since last year.
Foreign airlines, especially the European ones, have mounted a relentless campaign to repatriate funds held in the CBN. The bank has, however, stood its ground, saying such a huge withdrawal would have a further negative impact on the naira.
Efforts by the foreign airlines to force the hand of the government, including a January visit by IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, and several visits to Nigeria’s ministry of finance, have met a brick wall.
In what observers described as “one more desperate move,” Eurocontrol yesterday threatened to impound Arik Air’s plane at London Heathrow if the airline does not settle the navigational charges by Friday.
The threat is stirring corresponding threats of a reprisal by Nigeria’s aviation authorities, who are also claiming that BA owes at least $20 million in navigational and sundry charges.
A London-based aviation source said Eurocontrol had already reported the threat to impound Arik Air’s plane to the Nigerian High Commission in London.
When contacted yesterday, Arik Air’s head of communications, Mr. Adebanji Ola, said he would not comment on the matter at this stage, adding, “All I can say for now is that there is nothing for our travelling guests to worry about. The airline will meet all its contractual obligations.”
A source, however, said that the airline received the letter of demand from Eurocontrol at 7pm on Thursday, effectively giving the airline 48 hours to respond since Friday and Monday were public holidays.
“It’s all very suspicious,” the source said. “Why are they issuing this threat now and in this way? Arik Air had owed them much larger sums in the past and the charges were paid without a fuss.
“It appears that after the threat to increase fares by 100 percent failed and the threat to sack the so-called 2,000 Nigerian workers in foreign airlines was exposed as a ruse, the guys have come up with something new.”
Tensions between European airlines and the Nigerian government have been high since the government refused to yield to pressures to allow the airlines repatriate hundreds of millions of dollars held by the CBN.
To compound the woes of the foreign airlines, the two Nigerian carriers – Arik Air and Medview – have been cashing in on a growing number price-sensitive travellers, forcing British Airways to switch to a smaller aircraft on its Lagos-London route.
*Blessing Anaro, Samson Echenim