Nigeria Airways workers continue protest

Lagos- Nigeria (PANA) -- Armed policemen fired canisters of tear gas to disperse protesting Nigeria Airways workers Monday, while security was stepped up at the country's two Aviation Ministry parastatals whose chief executives were fired by the government Friday.
The workers in their thousands, protesting the withdrawal of the permission given to the national carrier to resume operations on the Lagos-London route by British aviation authorities, and the resultant sacking of the airline's boss, Yomi Jones, barricaded the road leading to the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos.
They chanted anti-government slogans, with some of their placards calling for the removal of the Aviation Minister Kema Chikwe.
"The sacking of Yomi Jones is not the problem of Nigeria Airways," one placard proclaimed, while another said: "Chikwe must go".
But police did not allow the protesters to go further as they enveloped the entire vicinity with tear gas, forcing the demonstrators to flee.
Several motorists using the airport road as a link to other areas were also forced to make a detour as the tear gas spread.
The protests started Thursday, the day the airline was billed to resume flights on the Lagos-London route, which it was forced to abandon three years ago due to huge debts and lack of equipment as its fortunes plummeted after years of mismanagement.
The workers were angered by reports that Britain had withdrawn the permission earlier granted Nigeria Airways to fly the route with the Boeing 747 plane it wet-leased from Djibouti.
The workers claimed the action was aimed at protecting the two British airlines on the route (British Airways and Virgin Atlantic), especially as the Nigeria Airways had announced a low (return) fare of 499 US dollars to woo passengers.
But the British High Commission in Nigeria denied the charges, saying the decision was to based on safety concerns over the use of the plane.
It said in a statement that the approval was withdrawn after a report by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on 6 August raised safety concerns on the Djibouti aircraft.
"The UK only became aware of the ICAO report on Djibouti after permission had been given to Nigeria Airways to commence services," the statement said.
The situation took another turn on Friday when the Nigerian government fired Jones and the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), for what Chikwe called their incompetence.
Industry watchers however, said the government's action - especially the firing of Jones - was a direct consequence of the row over the failure of the troubled national airline to return to the lucrative route.
Analysts say the Nigerian government favours a joint venture agreement between the national carrier and Virgin Atlantic, similar to a collapsed pact between Nigeria Airways and its British counterpart, since the Nigerian airline has no plane to fly the route.
But it would appear that the Nigeria Airways management believes the airline could get a better deal operating the route on its own, hence the wet leasing of the Djibouti plane.

20 august 2001 18:47:00

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