The Federal Government, yesterday, dared foreign airlines operating in the country to make good their threat to shutdown operations, saying they should remain grateful for doing business in Nigeria.

The government also berated the airlines for failing to employ a good number of Nigerians, noting that other nationals are more in the employment of the foreign carriers than Nigerians.

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Minister for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who spoke during a stakeholders’ meeting with key players in the industry, insisted International Air Transport Association (IATA), which issued the threat cannot blackmail government.

The meeting, called at the instance of the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, had in attendance Central Bank Governor (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, and other top government functionaries.

Sirika said: “We are not afraid of being shutdown. The country can thrive without the operations of foreign airlines. Countries have been shutdown in the past for various reasons, yet they came out stronger. So, we cannot be intimidated.

“We are talking about the biggest market in Africa here, which cannot be compared with other countries in this part of the world. So, it is in the interest of the operators to be in business here. We are not going to be intimidated in any way at all.”

Emefiele said one third of the global economy is in recession but assured that the backlog of $700 million owed IATA will be paid, though the process appear slow.

He said Nigerian airlines should also be allowed to fly into other countries and operate with use of the naira. He noted that Nigeria remains the biggest market on the continent and must be respected.

The CBN governor, who called for all countries to benefit from one another, said government has been supportive in sustaining the operators.

He said while the airlines were supposed to rely on their banks to get foreign exchange, the apex bank used its discretion to allocate foreign exchange to them, as a measure aimed at easing their business operations.

Gbajabiamila said the current administration met a backlog of $480 million but was able to offset the debt, urging the operators to shift ground to resolve the issue.

He said Nigeria must begin to enforce reciprocity in the industry for the sake of its integrity and benefit.

The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, said the foreign airlines operate to the detriment of local carriers, thereby, reducing chances of expansion.

To encourage the growth of local airlines, Onyema suggested foreign carriers reduce their frequency into the country to enable their Nigerian counterpart also fly internationally.

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