Nigeria Air suspension: Aviation experts, CSOs deliberate over next move.
The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace, Mr Festus Keyamo few weeks ago opened a fresh page of controversy when he announced the suspension of the Nigeria Air project.
He said the suspension was necessary to investigate the Nigeria Air concession debacle adequately.
The 9th House of Representatives Committee on Aviation had made a similar move, calling for the suspension of the project.
It will be recalled that barely three days before the end of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the then minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika hurriedly launched the Nigeria Air five years after unveiling it at Farnborough Air Show in the United Kingdom.
According to the business structure of Nigeria Air, the Federal Government holds five per cent, 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.
Nnolim Nnaji (PDP, Enugu), who chaired the 9th House of Reps Committee on Aviation, had 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.
On Monday, 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 couriers 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 kobo to build a terminal; it should be a concession.
“The FG 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.
“I told former Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika the government contribution is 5 per cent; where is the remaining 95 per cent from alleged investors?
“The regulatory agencies should stick to regulations, not financial intervention.
“The Government went ahead to pay it 5 per cent; what about the 95 per cent?
“National carriers are not workable for us except they want to use it for Government carriers, which are not sustainable.
“Government officials will not be paying for it, so by the end of 3-5 years, it will fold up and will start seeking government intervention funds. We should stop government intervention funds”, he stated.
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 Roundtable, 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.
The project means that we will only be feeding the Ethiopian Government. Looking at the African air transport market, Nigeria does not need Ethiopian airlines. What we need is an international partner outside Africa. We have the market”, he stated.
From a civic society perspective, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Director, Eze Onyekpere, said there was never a Nigeria Air.
He alleged that the former Minister defrauded Nigerians with the project.
There was never a Nigeria Air, so the suspension was just for the fun of announcing. Where is the agreement, contract and airline?
“We had a Minister who was fraudulent and defrauded Nigerians. The suspension is the right thing to do.
“The former Minister defrauded Nigeria; there was no airline on the ground; he should be dragged to refund the country’s money”, he stated.