Minister of Aviation Senator Hadi Sirika, last week, gave next year as the date for the take-off of a new national carrier.
Sirika, who was at the Senate to defend his ministry’s 2021 budget, rolled out the federal government’s roadmap for the aviation sector, with the establishment of a national carrier topping its priority.
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Stating that the roadmap will be implemented through Public-Private Partnership (PPP), Sirika noted that all required agreements and arrangements with other partners have been worked out.
According to him, “This government, right from inception in 2015, has been planning and strategising on how to resuscitate the national carrier for Nigeria as far as global air transportation is concerned. The plan, going by what is on the ground now, will be actualised next year through the PPP arrangement.”
Clearly, Senator Sirika is obsessed with the idea of a national carrier. In July 2018, during the Farnborough Air Show in London, United Kingdom, he had unveiled the branding and livery for a new national carrier, Nigeria Air, putting its initial take-off date as December 24, 2018.
With opposition to the plan, Sirika explained that the federal government has learnt lessons from the experience of the defunct Nigeria Airways, and would not repeat the mistakes that led to its demise.
“This airline is a business and not a social service. It is not intended to kill any airline in Nigeria but complement it and promote it. It must be done in the right way so that it will be here to stay. Government will not hold shares beyond five per cent at the topmost. This airline has the backing of the government. Government will come up with funding according to the business case that has been delivered to the government,” he said.
But Senator Sirika was silent on how the five per cent equity share would be funded or the source of the $8 million and $300 million budgeted for initial funding of the national carrier. And the national carrier plan was suspended in December 2018.
The national carrier is intended to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways that ceased operations in 2003. But not much was said by Sirika on how it would look like. In July 2018, he noted it would be a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the federal government’s stake likely up to 10 per cent. The equity was backed by N47 billion in the 2019 budget for take-off.
Yet, the idea of a national carrier is wasteful. If another one is set up, what is the guarantee it won’t go the way of the defunct Nigeria Airways, Nigeria Railways and the National Shipping Line, which all collapsed.
Yes, there are advantages to having a national carrier. But it doesn’t have to 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.
Otherwise, like all other past efforts, corruption and all the unnecessary interferences of government would kill this one again. The Nigerian element would just creep in and not allow it to survive as government officials would see it as a cash cow to be milked.
In any case, this should not be our national priority in the face of many national issues begging for attention.
Moreover, companies are better run as private enterprises. And why must the Nigerian government, which has a colossal history of mismanagement, want to enter into the aviation sector, which ordinarily is a difficult area to do business.
Government should maintain its role as a regulator and facilitator. Our experience in Nigeria is that government should not get involved in running businesses, not to talk of a critical sector like aviation. It should designate a major private airline as the national carrier and not embark on a wild goose chase.