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Renewed calls for probe of Nigeria Air



Stakeholders in airline management are expressing worry that the transactions embarked upon by the former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika on the project have not been looked into.

Sources close to the project say until the Federal Government makes public definite action to call to order persons and organisations that embarked on alleged infractions concerning the project, intending investors could be wary to commit funds into the airline.

Hadi Sirika had admitted shortly after leaving office that the Ministry of Aviation committed over N3 billion into the project.

Sirika said the N3 billion released in seven years for the project were spent on consultative services and office maintenance. Sirika said the government did not pay for the chartered Ethiopian aircraft showcased as Nigeria Air, as it was brought by Ethiopian Airlines to demonstrate commitment to the project.

He said reports suggesting that N85 billion was spent on the project was untrue, emphasising that only N5 billion was budgeted and not all of the N3 billion released was expended during his tenure.

Experts familiar with the project say much more funds could have been committed into the controversial carrier, as the process of its delivery remained shoddy, triggering more questions than answers.

Besides the probe by the Federal Government on the role of the ex- minister of aviation on the project, industry experts say full disclosure is needed on the stake of the named technical partner/ core investor- Ethiopian Airlines,

To regain the confidence of prospective investors, experts say the Federal Government needs to give details on the stake of institutional investors initially connected with the project as well as the role of facilitating agencies including : Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC),Ministry of Finance and others.

A few months ago, Minister of Aviation and Aerospace, Mr Festus Keyamo said the federal government had suspended the project for lack of transparency.

Keyamo said the project needs a complete probe to establish public trust. The 9th House of Representatives Committee on Aviation had made a similar move, calling for the suspension of the project.

According to the business structure of Nigeria Air, the federal government holds five percent, which is held in trust by the Ministry of Finance Incorporated, while Ethiopia Airlines, the strategic partner, holds 49 per cent.

However, Nigerian aviation stakeholders have expressed divergent views on the recent intervention by the Federal Government on the controversy.

While some believe that the Federal Government needs to call for the total cancellation of the Nigeria Air project, others disagree.

Former Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji , described the Nigeria Air project as a fraud.

The umbrella body of domestic airlines, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), has not hidden their disapproval of the Nigeria Air project. The group dragged the federal government to court.

An aviation consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd.), said the Government should face the security and safety of the airlines, not the business.

According to him, having a national carrier will not benefit the country.

He said the government could look at flagship carriers instead of clamouring for a national carrier.

Ojikutu frowned at the continued wastage of the federal government’s finances in the name of aviation intervention funds.

“Government should face the security and safety of the airlines, not the business. Should not put any money into anything related to private business, including the airport concessions. Don’t put a kobo to build a terminal; it should be a concession.

“The federal government must get itself out of the direct involvement in commercial aviation and face squarely Aeronautical Safety and Security Services.

“To set up a flag carrier instead of a National carrier. At least two flag carriers,” Ojikutu said.

Mr. Alex Nwuba, an aviation analyst, said the government should thoroughly investigate the Nigeria Air Project.

“The total expenditure is in dispute, the ownership is in dispute, and even the benefit to the nation is in dispute. Therefore, a suspension to determine the facts, which is not an outright cancellation, is appropriate while this administration considers the most appropriate action”, he said.

Also, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, the General Secretary of Aviation Round Table, Nigeria Air, stressed that Nigeria Air does not support the national interest as it is currently constituted.

He said the country needs an international partner outside Africa who would help drive Nigeria’s large aviation market.

“If we return to the project as it is currently constituted, it would not benefit Nigeria and not in the national interest,” Ohunayo said.

Only last week, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Mr. Mesfin Tasew, broke silence on the project. He said the Horn of Africa carrier- Ethiopian Airlines – never had any plan to set up an airline in Nigeria but was invited by the federal government to partner with it to establish a national carrier, Nigeria Air.

The carrier, he said first resisted the invitation but later agreed due to its long-time relationship with Nigeria.

He said while Ethiopian Airlines and the Nigerian government were preparing the shareholding structure it noticed some infractions that prompted its withdrawal.

He said: “But, the Nigerian government insisted that it should continue the process.

“In the first place, it was not our initiative, it was the initiative of the government. Now, if the government wants us to cancel the project, it is fine with us. We have no problem.”



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