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Probe Nigeria Air project

On May 26, 2023, the last official day of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja hosted a Boeing 737-800 bearing the livery…

On May 26, 2023, the last official day of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja hosted a Boeing 737-800 bearing the livery of Nigeria Air. Tagged the official unveiling of the new national carrier, Nigeria Air, former minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said, “This is one infrastructure that has been missing in general aviation dynamics of the country; the airline that is equal to the size of dynamics of the market in Nigeria for its geography and fortune. Indeed, we do need the kind of infrastructure that we are having today in the name of Nigeria Air Limited.

“This Nigeria Air Limited is obviously an entity known to Nigerian laws and the partnership between entrepreneurs in Nigeria and entrepreneurs in the Ethiopia Airline consortium.”

But the ceremony has been less than good for Nigeria. First, the Boeing 737, at the event was in fact a 10-year-old Ethiopian Airlines plane chartered for the “unveiling” flight and repainted with the colours of the non-existent Nigeria Air.

And on Tuesday, June 6, Dapo Olumide, acting Managing Director of Nigeria Air, told members of the Senate Committee on Aviation that Nigeria Air was yet to secure an operating licence for full flight operations and that the processes were still in the early stages.

“The aircraft that came in and left was a legitimate (Ethiopian Airlines) charter flight. And that is what we did. But in this case, it was to unveil the Logo of Nigeria Air…,” he said.

This was an embarrassment to Nigerians who had expected the much trumpeted take off of the national carrier billed to be a legacy project of President Muhammadu Buhari. The president had declared in London on February 21, 2015, as presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC): “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 the Nigerian Airways and within a year increase the fleet into about 20.”

In eight years of the Buhari administration, Sirika was the arrowhead in this quest. And according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and compilation of budgetary allocations between 2016 and 2023, he spent over N85 billion on Nigeria Air.

In July 2018, during the Farnborough Air Show in London, Sirika unveiled the branding and livery for Nigeria Air, putting its initial take-off date for December 24, 2018, explaining that it would be a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with a federal government stake of 10 per cent. He added that the equity was backed by N47 billion in the 2019 budget for its 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.

Since then, the project had been beset with shifting timelines such that some Nigerians sarcastically said its existence is only on the minister’s ‘Twitter space” or pronouncements.

Finally, on Thursday, March 30, 2023, Sirika told the 2023 National Aviation Stakeholders Forum that Nigeria Air would commence operations before May 29, 2023.

The Chairman of the Senate Aviation Committee, Senator Biodun Olujimi and the Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, both agreed that the launch of Nigeria Air was a fraud.

In his response, the former minister, Sirika, said Nigeria Air was unveiled by the national carrier’s shareholders and not the federal government. He added that although the plane was chartered, the government was not responsible for paying for the flight. He said the unveiling of the single aircraft was a marketing strategy by the Nigeria Air partners, adding that the national carrier would resume operations once the air operator certification (AOC) process was completed.

“It is their own marketing strategy as equity partners that they came to do this unveiling on a special allowance which is called a chartered flight. Chartered does not mean they paid for it. If there is anybody that paid for it, it would have been the Ethiopian Airlines. No penny is paid,” he said.

All said and done, everyone on this project must be made to account. For many Nigerians, the anti-graft agencies, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), do not need a petition to swing into action and swiftly launch investigations and prosecute anyone found culpable in any corrupt practices or dereliction of duties which resulted in a seeming long ride to the national disgrace packaged as Nigeria Air.

The whole execution of the project made nonsense of any goal of improving standards or service delivery in the sector. It neither created jobs for Nigerians nor reduced capital flight. It rather brought an obvious lack of transparency into limelight and damaged the national psyche, casting doubts on Nigeria’s ability to organize anything good for itself.

Daily Trust believes that the very idea of railroading a phantom project in the guise of a national carrier is a disgrace to the administration of President Buhari. It puts a question mark and added a credibility deficit in any further discussion of national carrier. Its shortcomings have become a metaphor for the typical irresponsibility of government officials taking the citizens for granted.

Therefore, the government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should cancel the Nigeria Air project, order its forensic probe and recover all funds spent illegally.

 

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