Nigerian Aviation minister, Stella Oduah, has vowed a “determined and unwavering” effort to force defiant British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to review airfares on Nigerian routes.
The minister spoke at a senate hearing Monday where lawmakers added fillip to an agitation that already threatens to trigger a diplomatic row.
Ms. Oduah, who appeared before the senate aviation committee investigating airfare disparities and collusion between both airlines, said she will “follow the matter to a logical conclusion” amid defiance from both companies.
“We have fully examined the laws, circumstances and decisions. We do not agree and the matter is now with the Federal Ministry of Justice,” the minister said regarding arguments by both airlines that compelling a price reduction, or sanctions, will violate Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, who also attended the hearing, had earlier urged a probe that ensured fares on Nigerian routes, which he said was the highest in the world, were reviewed downwards without sparking a diplomatic brawl.
The ministers and the senators accused the two British-owned companies of collusion to fix prices, an offence both airlines once admitted to, before the United States and UK authorities.
“Why is it that BA and Virgin that are at war with each other on virtually every other route, London-New York, London- Florida etc, are in agreement in the prices on the London-Lagos or Abuja route,” Mr. Ashiru asked.
Both airlines have come under scrutiny recently by aviation authorities and were investigated and found guilty of price fixing and violation of Nigerian aviation laws. Officials have accused them of maintaining a fare regime that leaves Nigerian routes to be more expensive than even longer distances to London, UK.
For example, while a Lagos-London first class return fare is $10,816 and Abuja-London return flight is $10,144, the Accra-London equivalent is $4,798.
Late April, Ms. Oduah handed down a 30 day-warning for the fares to be reduced or risk a ban, prompting responses from the UK High Commission warning of retaliatory measures against Nigerian airlines if the ban was imposed.
At the senate hearing Monday, BA was represented by the Country Manager, Kolawole Olayinka, who insisted the exorbitant charges were controlled by market forces of high demand and low supply.
The senate committee members said they will press for the fare reduction and tightening aviation regulations, as well as ensure extra fares where price fixing was established, were repaid to Nigerian passengers.
‘If we discover you took their money, a kobo will not be left with you,” said committee chairman, Hope Uzodinma. The hearing continues Tuesday.