On Thursday, March 30, 2023, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, told the 2023 National Aviation Stakeholders Forum that the new national carrier, Nigeria Air, will commence operations before May 29, 2023.
“Operation of local and international flights will commence soon. Before the end of this administration; before May 29, we will fly.
“Negotiation meetings with the Ethiopian Airlines Group Consortium and the Federal Government of Nigeria are ongoing. Next step: Federal Executive Council approval of the full business case,” Sirika said.
The minister emphasised that as Nigeria Air comes on stream, it will reduce capital flight from the country, maximise the benefit of the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and development of an aviation hub.
Mr Sirika added that it will also contribute to the country’s GDP, facilitate hospitality and tourism, growth and development of the Nigerian agricultural sector, and create jobs around the agro-cargo terminals.
A national carrier was billed to be a legacy project for President Muhammadu Buhari, as in London on February 21, 2015, then the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), he declared: “We intend, for instance, to bring back our national carrier, the Nigerian Airways. We shall do this by bringing all the aircraft in the presidential fleet into Nigerian Airways and within a year increase the fleet into about 20.”
Nigeria Air is meant to replace the former national carrier, Nigeria Airways, which collapsed in 2003, under the plague of mismanagement, corruption and overstaffing.
But the proposed new carrier has been beset by inertia, legal challenges, delays, shifting of timelines and sheer policy somersaults.
In November last year, a Federal High Court in Lagos issued an order of interim injunction restraining the Nigerian government from proceeding with the establishment of the national carrier as the plaintiffs, the Airline Operators Association (AON) of Nigeria, claimed that the new national carrier would get an unfair advantage over other airlines in the country.
Meanwhile, in February this year, Sirika said he was not aware of any court injunction barring the commencement of Nigeria Air, insisting that the airline’s operations would commence before May 29.
It is clear that Sirika is obsessed with the idea of a national carrier. In July 2018, during the Farnborough Air Show in London, UK, he unveiled the branding and livery for Nigeria Air, putting its initial take-off date on December 24, 2018. The minister noted that it would be a public-private partnership (PPP) with the federal government’s stake of 10 per cent, adding that the equity was backed by N47 billion in the 2019 budget for takeoff.
Yet, on September 19, 2018, Sirika, after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, announced the immediate and indefinite suspension of the widely publicised national carrier.
Daily Trust believes that the very idea of a publicly-owned national carrier at this time is wasteful as there is no guarantee it won’t go the way of the defunct Nigeria Airways, Nigeria Railways and National Shipping Line, all of which collapsed.
The obvious advantages of having a national carrier are there, but it must not be publicly owned. The federal government should just designate the strongest private carrier as the national carrier and avoid the wastages that go with government-owned companies, especially in an environment where government officials see such projects as cash cows to be milked.
In any case, government should maintain its role as a regulator and facilitator and not as a competitor.
Since his appointment as minister, Sirika has been promising and failing on this project, such that some Nigerians have sarcastically tagged the project as existing on the minister’s ‘Twitter Space” or pronouncements.
It now has a credibility deficit and has become a national embarrassment with its unending flip-flops. Nigerians have been shortchanged enough as they have been taken on a long ride.
Indeed, efforts toward the establishment of Nigeria Air have been a waste of time and resources. It has become the typical irresponsibility of government officials to raise expectations and dash them. Nigerians are not deceived anymore.
Sirika had eight years to actualize the Nigeria Air project, one of the unfulfilled promises of President Muhammadu Buhari, to bequeath a functional carrier to the nation. First, as minister of state Transportation in charge of aviation and later as full minister of Aviation, he didn’t fulfill this dream. Now, he is in a hurry to deliver.
But from the beginning, it seems that the project was programmed to fail. Therefore, the wastage on the Nigeria Air project should cease immediately. Let the incoming government determine the propriety or otherwise of a new national carrier.