Scores of air passengers were on Monday stranded at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) as unions at the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) embarked on an indefinite strike.
The workers, who spoke , said that the strike was to press home their demand for the implementation of the salary structure approved by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission.
The unions are the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE).
The situation had compelled senior management staff of NAMA to take charge of the control towers.
Armed policemen were also stationed at the entrance of NAMA headquarters, to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
A union member, who pleaded anonymity, said that there were no international flights going out or coming into the country because of the strike.
“Those ones coming in were diverted to Niger Republic Airspace, causing the country to lose revenue.
“As at 9:00 a.m., only eight domestic airlines had been air borne, as against the 20 we should have recorded on a normal day,” the source said .
Some passengers urged NAMA management and the unions to resolve the crisis without delay.
An Abuja-bound passenger, Mr Deji Elumoye, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos State Council, urged the unions and NAMA management to resolve their differences by fulfilling the agreements they both reached.
“NAMA should pay the backlog of arrears it is owing the workers, while the unions should shift grounds to allow for meaningful negotiations and the resolution of the matter,” Elumoye said.
The NUJ chairman, who said he was going for a meeting in Abuja, had to seek a refund from the airline after waiting for two hours without the flight taking off.
Mrs Biola Olayiwola, another passengers travelling to Abuja, also called for closer collaboration between the NAMA management and the unions because they both needed themselves for the survival of the sector.
“Now that the Federal Government is planning to boost the industry with new aircraft, agencies that would make that policy work should not be at loggerheads with themselves,” Olayiwola said
Malam Ibraheem Aliyu, who was travelling to Kano, said that he was not aware of the strike until he got to the airport.
“I have bought my ticket and the airline operators did not tell me anything to the contrary. You could see that the terminal is filled with passengers waiting to board their flights,” Aliyu said.
At about noon, the leadership of the unions chased out NAMA staff from their offices, stressing that if the outcome of the meeting with the Ministers of Aviation and Labour did not favour them, the strike would continue.
The unions in a statement signed by Messrs Olayinka Abioye, Abdulkareem Motajo and Aba Ocheme, their acting secretary-generals, described the strike as a “successful one” and warned the flying passengers’ not to fly.
They also warned the flying public not to endanger their lives by flying, adding that it was NAMA’s management staff that were drafted to take charge of the control towers and serving as air traffic controllers (ATCS).
The unions, however, advised the flying public, the Airlines and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority on the danger inherent in a situation whereby NAMA’s management personnel now served as air traffic controllers.
“These management staff do not have the prerequisite validation for various air traffic control service facilities and systems, Aeronautical Information Services, Aeronautical Communications and Air Traffic Engineering Services.
“This is contrary to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and recommended practices in security and safety,” the statement said.
The unions said that this seeming infraction on the part of NAMA management was another exhibition of its culture of impunity which portends grave consequences and danger for the flying public.
“Airlines and Pilots receiving directives and instructions from these categories of personnel are doing so at their own risk.
“Neither the unions nor the real workers of NAMA shall be held accountable in case of any incident or accidents as those flying these planes are flying into the unknown,” the statement said.
Mr Supo Atobatele, General Manager, Public Affairs, NAMA, in a telephone interview with NAN said that the agency’s senior management staff had been drafted to the control towers.
“All NAMA personnel are technically sound to do the jobs they are trained and employed to do.
“The flying public should not allow the unions to dampen their spirits with the excuses that the senior management staff of NAMA cannot handle the control towers.
“The flying public should not nurse any fear regarding their safety because these are the instructors that trained the air traffic controllers,” Atobatele said.
He added that it is only the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) as the regulatory agency that can disqualify anybody and not the unions.
“All airlines should continue with their flight schedules as NAMA has not issued them any notice that the nation’s airspace had been shut,” he said.
Officials of the airline declined comments on the strike situation.