National Carrier: A Fraudulent Flight Of Fancy

National Carrier: A Fraudulent Flight Of Fancy

In more than two decades, Nigeria has been tinkering with the idea of having its own national air carrier. After the collapse of Nigerian Airways which more or less symbolized a national carrier, the flip-flops over the matter has been less than salutary.

One government to the other has not made good reckoning on the matter.
It’s not yet clear where the pendulum will swing on the matter by a government that has avowed its commitment to anti-corruption.
Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had been on the saddle to take this fateful but now aborted flight to good end, but suddenly the world was informed only last week that the fresh national carrier project has been aborted after stupendous sums of tax payers’ money have been expended on it.
Corroborating the curious twist of fate, the new minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed, bore the brunt for it on her second day at work, when she addressed the matter succinctly.
Ahmed was confronted by a group of protesters, who have somehow survived 14 years of misery, and was demanding payment of the pension arrears they earned while working with the Nigerian Airways.
The pension, estimated at about N45 billion, was not even part of what Sirika had in mind in July when he was ticking off the boxes to launch Nigeria Air, his flight of fancy. He had vowed that having apparently discovered from resurfacing the Abuja airport runway that defiance is the best medicine for public opinion, he would press on with the national carrier, come headwinds or tailwinds.
Less than 24 hours after the protesters besieged the ministry of finance, however, the government announced the “indefinite suspension” of Nigeria Air, laying to rest, at least for now, the multi-faceted ghosts that will continue to haunt any bogus plan to re-launch a national carrier.
In July when Sirika announced at the Farnborough air show in the UK that Nigeria would launch a new national carrier in December, many thought an Eldorado was in sight for a country waiting to earn its pride of place in the global aviation space as one of Africa’s top leaders in the economy. The lack of a national carrier has no doubt detracted from its global ranking in the sector. So the Sirika move was seen as an impressive move for a nation long awaiting a reprieve.
Many had argued then that the proposal did not make sense and that Sirika had not made a business case because, outside his fancy, there was simply no business case to make for Nigeria Air. High taxes, multiple fees, and levies, not to mention fuel costs and poor regulation, make air travel in Africa 200 per cent higher than travel costs in Europe. How was Nigeria Air going to deal with that?
Why did Sirika think that the only way to optimize the BASA agreement is to pour money into a national carrier when private local airlines that tried to use the slots in the past were trashed and foreign ones tried got their fingers burnt trying to repatriate their money?
Many Nigerians have not minced words on the viability of the project, they have described as an arrogant waste of public resources.
If Sirika cared at all, it didn’t show. He told the world at Farnborough that the government had already set aside $8 million seed capital for the launch and nothing was going to stop the delivery of five aircraft for the take-off of the national carrier in December.
Before that, a consortium of six consultants, including Lufthansa, had been paid about $5 million in May, after which another consultant – a Bahrain-based company, charged about N163 million for the stylized green-white-green livery and God-knows-how-much more in undeclared invoices.
As part of the countdown to the launch, Sirika even said government was looking at borrowing between $400 million and $500 million to fix defects at the Abuja airport, even though five years earlier the Nigerian government had signed a loan of $500million with China for the construction of four new airports by the China Civil Engineering Construction Company.
A lot other commitments have gone in and these involves stupendous sums of Nigeria’s money and this undoubtedly is a waste of resources. In the aftermath of this disgraceful enterprise, Nigerians were told that all financial commitments on the project would be fully actualized. That is a colossal loss to a nation gripping with many other socio-economic challenges.


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