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House of Reps ask airline operators to refund N4bn COVID-19 funds



Ethiopian airlines

The House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts has given all private airline operators in the country a one-week deadline to account for the N4 billion given to them by the Federal Government to combat the COVID-19 pandemic or refund the money if there is no justifiable evidence of how it was spent.

The committee, chaired by Bamidele Salam of the Peoples Democratic Party from Osun State, gave the ultimatum on Friday at the resumption of the investigation into the alleged abuse of COVID-19 intervention money by federal ministries, departments, and agencies.

The committee said, “All private airlines that received COVID-19 relief funds designated to support the aviation sector are to refund the allocated funds to the Federal Government Treasury if they fail to give justifiable evidence of how the money was judiciously spent within a week.”

The committee lamented that, despite their appearance, many airlines and industry stakeholders, including Aero Contractors, Azman, and representatives from the Federal Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development, were unable to satisfactorily explain how the funds provided to them were used to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Marketing Manager of Azman Airlines, Odum Uju, who represented the company at the hearing, admitted receiving N367.90 million purportedly allocated for various operational expenses, including aircraft maintenance, spare parts, fueling, forex purchasing, and insurance premiums paid, while the Station Manager of Aero Contractor, Abdulmalik Musa, stated that the company received N217.35 million from the Federal Government to manage the Corona virus threat.

However, an Aero Contractor Airline spokesperson stated that the fund was used to pay for airport handling and facility fees, fuel, onboard cuisine, pilot training fees, and lease rental payments.
In response to the comments, Ojuawo Adeniyi, a committee member and former pilot with the Nigerian Air Force from Ekiti State, questioned them, claiming that the services offered by the operators were only applicable during regular airline operations.

Following that, Akiba Bassey, a member representing Calabar Municipal/Odukpani Federal Constituency in Cross River State, moved a motion for a refund of N4 billion to the Federation Account if the airlines failed to provide the committee with a satisfactory account of how they spent the COVID-19 intervention funds, which was unanimously supported by his colleagues.