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The federal government says it will penalise foreign airlines selling tickets to Nigerians in dollars, insisting that such practice is a violation of Nigerian laws.

Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, disclosed this to state house correspondents after the federal executive council (FEC) meeting. The meeting was presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa in Abuja.

According to Sirika, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had been instructed to swing into action by protecting the interest of Nigerians against malpractices, warning that no violator, no matter how highly placed, would be spared if caught in violation.

He said the government’s findings revealed that some of the airlines refused naira and charged their ticket fares in dollars in violation of the country’s laws.

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The minister added that some foreign airlines blocked local travel agencies from accessing their websites for transactions, choosing to release expensive tickets.

“I want to use this opportunity to say that reports are reaching us that some of the airlines are refusing to sell tickets in naira. That is a violation of our local laws, they will not be allowed. The high and the mighty amongst them will be sanctioned if they’re caught doing that,” Sirika said.

“NCAA had been directed to swing into action and once we find any airline violating this, we will definitely deal with them. Also, they blocked the travel agents from access. They also made only the expensive tickets available and so on and so forth.

“Our regulators are not sleeping, we have a very vibrant Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Once they found any airline guilty, that airline will be dealt with because we need to protect our people. It is according to our agreements, to what we have signed and this is according to international convention.

“So going forward, they should desist from doing things that are outside of the law. They should also desist from writing to us and putting things on social media. They should go through diplomatic channels if they want a response from the federal government.”

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The minister further disclosed that the foreign airlines made over $1.1 billion from Nigeria in 2016, when Buhari’s administration cleared the $600 million it inherited from the previous government, adding that if it was retained in the country through the Nigerian official airline, it would have created jobs.

Sirika said over $265 million had been released this year out of about $484 million due to them.

He said the government is trying to keep the airlines happy by ensuring that their money does not pile up again, saying that while the country needs their services, the airlines need the Nigerian market.

The minister warned them to refrain from using social media to press home their demands rather than resorting to diplomatic channels.

On Nigeria Air, Sirika said the federal government has only spent N651 million (N352 million and N299 million) on transaction advisory services for the project.

He dismissed a report that the airline project had gulped over N14.6 billion of government funds despite having only a five percent stake.

“So Nigeria Air is, of course, we are going to come very soon to council for approval of the full business case. And the activity is a Public Private Partnership, which is guided by the ICRC regulations, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission,” he added.

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