#TheYNaijaInterview: “We are telling the airlines enough is enough” – Hon. Dayo Bush Alebiosu

by Wilfred Okiche

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We sat down with Hon. Dayo Bush Alebiosu, Chairman House Committee on Treaties and Agreements and we discussed the Air Passengers Rights Bill, bilateral air service agreements and the hassles of travel in Nigerian airports. E

njoy excerpts from the conversation.

What has been your worst flying nightmare?

It doesn’t have to be an accident or a crash but what you deal with at the airport on a daily basis. The 5-6hour delays, cases where you buy a business class ticket and you find out the airline has no business class arrangement yet they make you pay, so many of them and to be honest with you that is what prompted some of us to come up with the Air passengers rights bill. We are saying enough is enough. And we looked at the stipulations of the Montreal Convention and we want to have a balance of the agreements. Such that if a flight is delayed for some reason the airlines have to apologise first and then find ways to book the passengers on the next available flight even if it belongs to another airline. So every time is a new experience. I’ve had numerous. Bear in mind that if I decide to travel today it is for a purpose so if you cancel my flight, or delay it then you have inconvenienced me terribly. When you are abroad, travelling is a pleasurable experience, here it is a nightmare.

In my experience, whenever you miss your flight, the airlines make you pay a commission if you still want to travel but when they delay you or cancel a flight sometimes you are lucky to get an apology. Does the Air passengers rights bill cover irregularities like these?

Yes, that is one of the things we are trying to correct. In the past even if it is no fault of yours, you are asked to pay a no-show fee, then before you know It you are parting with an additional 12, 000Naira. What we are trying to do now is this; if there is going to be a delay of about an hour, then I am entitled to a free call. For cancellations, there should be monetary compensation or the option of getting me moved to the next available flight on another airline if possible. If there is a 3 hour delay, you owe me lunch and the option of moving on to another airline. If it is up to 6 hours, then they will have to pay for your accommodation and inconvenience. For the bill, we are being reactive as well as proactive so we are still working out the details of the actual remuneration. Because 2 heads are better than 1, at the public hearing, we shall be hearing from all sides before coming up with the final report.

All of this sounds interesting but If and when this bill is passed, implementation might be a problem. How do we get it to work?

To be honest with you, because it is only a policy, then people can do as they please but when the bill is signed, it becomes law, backed up by the laws of the land then there is the understanding that if you break the law then one can go to court to seek redress. Nobody starts a business to get into trouble with the courts so if eventually the airlines would have to sit up and put certain standards in place. So implementation is something that would come naturally, as long as Nigerians are able to understand what our rights are.

So before implementation comes awareness right?

Yes.

Apart from the upcoming public hearing, are there any other avenues being utilized to publicize this bill?

As an individual and as a member of the House that represents people, I am doing what I can but it is aso important for the people to find out certain things for themselves. It is a campaign and as I speak to you we have been on numerous programmes on various media houses to get the message to the people. Once it becomes law, then it becomes the duty of the NTA to sensitize the people as well. But there is also a responsibility on the part of the people to find out by themselves. With the help of the media, citizens can be more alive to their civic concerns.

There have been cases where passengers rights have been violated but they have no idea where to turn to next. Could you give them a clue as to where they can direct their anger to?

Good. By the time the committee’s work is done, we should put up billboards at the airports to let people know where to go to when they have such problems. But I have noticed that even when I travel with luxurious buses, there are signs they put up asking you to call when the driver is driving recklessly. But you find out that it hardly works as it is either people do not call these numbers or the complaints are not attended to. Because either ways, the drivers still carry on recklessly on the regular. Nevertheless that first step of sensitization at the airports is important.

You spoke earlier on the Bilateral Air Services Agreement. When you say they need to be domesticated, what does that mean?

It means that they should be localized, become local law. That process of becoming local law which is an act of parliament is called domestication.

So in all these international agreements which we are signatory to, do you think we end up with the short end of the stick?

Oh! There is no doubt about it. Regarding BASA, we have signed about 78 but only 25 are actually in force.

Whose duty is it to ensure these agreements are carried out faithfully?

There is a designated arm of government or agency that is meant to supervise these things but here you have the NCAA as an appendage of the aviation ministry when it ideally should stand on it’s own. Unfortunately the DG of the NCAA reports to the minister so how does he act?

But even before these agreements get to the NCAA, isnt there some discrepancy with the way they are drawn up?

You see these agreements are not what you sit down at a roundtable and draw up. They take months, years of going back and forth. There was a case where only 4 people represented a country and even at that the agreement was still lopsided, in favour of that country. There are  people who are supposed to be experts in these things but occasionally when I look at some of these agreements, it makes me doubt these persons because if I as a non-lawyer can see some errors then it shows that there is something wrong somewhere. And what we seek to do is not just condemn but to sit and right some of these wrongs so that the nation can benefit.

 

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