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Reps committee asks private airlines to refund N4bn COVID-19 funds

COVID-19

By Tom Okpe

In a decisive move, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Representatives has issued a one-week ultimatum to private airline operators in Nigeria, demanding the refund of N4 billion COVID-19 intervention funds to the federal government treasury.

This directive was handed down by the Committee’s Chairman, Rep Bamidele Salam (Osun-PDP), during a resumed investigative hearing on the alleged mismanagement of COVID-19 funds by various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs).

The committee emphasised the necessity for transparency and accountability in the utilisation of public funds, expressing dissatisfaction with the explanations provided by several airlines and industry stakeholders, including Aero Contractors, Azman, and Newrest, as well as representatives from the Federal Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development.

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Azman Airlines, represented by its Marketing Manager, Odum Chizoba Uju, acknowledged receiving N367,935,779.95 for operational expenses, while Aero Contractor confirmed receiving N217,345,542.05 for COVID-19 intervention. However, the committee raised concerns about the appropriateness of the services claimed by the airlines, asserting that they were applicable only during regular operations.

A representative of Aero Contractor Airline, explained that the fund received by the airline was used for airport handling and facility payment, fueling payment, on board catering payment, pilot training payments, and lease rental payments.

In a swift reaction, however, a member of the committee and former pilot with the Nigeria Air Force, Rep Ojuawo Adeniyi, (Ekiti State) faulted the submissions saying, “services claimed by the operators were applicable only during regular operations of airlines.”

In response, a motion was moved by Rep Akiba Bassey, proposing that the amount involved should be refunded to the Federation Account if justifiable evidence of expenditure is not provided. This motion received unanimous support from committee members, underscoring the seriousness with which the issue is being addressed.

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