Members of several aviation unions disrupted the operations of Nigeria’s largest indigenous airline, Arik Air, on Wednesday morning over an alleged N12.4 billion debt owed the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Scores of passengers were left stranded at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Arik Air’s operational base in Lagos, as early as 6.30 am as placards-carrying unionists grounded the operation of the airline.
Some of the passengers were seen demanding a refund from the airline staff while others were making alternative arrangements.
According to a travel news website, the Nigerian Travel Flight Deck, the union members said they resorted to blocking the airline from operating this morning after years of negotiating with the airline over the debt failed to yield any result.
Some of the placards have captions like: “Arik Pay Your 12.4bn Debt”, “FAAN can no longer pay salaries, pension, staff claims due to your debt.” “Debtors pay all you owe FAAN now.” “Arik if you can’t pay don’t fly”, “Arik pay your debt 12.4bn is too much.”
The General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) Olayinka Abioye, in a statement stated: “We are engaged in picketing exercise against Arik Air over its indebtedness to FAAN in the sum of N12.5b”.
FAAN’s spokesperson, Yakubu Datti, confirmed the picketing of the airline but said he could not provide additional information, as the action was a union affair.
The spokesperson of Arik Air, Ola Banji, described the claim that it owed FAAN N12.4 billion as “spurious”.