Nigeria Air: Revamping A National Pride

<strong>Nigeria Air: Revamping A National Pride</strong>

Since the death knell of the nation’s erstwhile national airline “Nigeria Airways” sounded in 2003, the nation may have lost a substantial part of its pride as the then robust airline paraded the best in terms of fleet and personnel in aviation history in its prime.

With a large number of international flight routes and a busy local schedule, the defunct Nigeria Airways was a common asset for which Nigerians could raise their shoulders.

It was not only a symbolic entity by merely flying the nation’s flag but portrayed character and resilience until the volleys of mismanagement laid to rest this once-vibrant national carrier.

Many have argued that even if the Airways had survived through these times, there is no way it would have escaped the hammer of the undertakers who privatised virtually everything in line with the government’s policy which saw several other entities go down into private hands.

How these various privatised entities fared afterwards remains another subject of necessary scrutiny even as some stakeholders are wary of their conditions.

With a renewed vigour, the Federal Government is re-visiting the issue of a national carrier after several failed attempts to have one in place following the avoidable collapse of Nigeria Airways as there are reports that a whopping N6.25 billion has been released for consultancy and advisers on the new project.

The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, ICRC, also gave indications recently that Nigeria Air will begin to convey Nigerians soon.

Acting Director-General of the Commission, Mr Michael Ohiani was quoted in Abuja recently in the media that the ICRC was now working round the clock to get it operational.

Ohiani said that ICRC was working closely with the Ministry of Aviation, adding that a new presidential approval had just been given that would advance the process.

The ICRC boss, who did not give details of the approvals, assured that the process would be moving to the next stage by the end of February.

We recall that the Federal Executive Council, FEC, in Nov. 2021, gave an approval for the commencement of processes to inaugurate the nation’s air carrier, Nigeria Air, while the Minister of Aviation,  Hadi Sirika who at that time briefed newsmen, announced April 2022 as the effective date for the take-off.

Sirika had also said that 49% of the Nigeria Air project would be owned by strategic equity partners, 46% by Nigerians while the Federal Government would own five per cent of the shares. These plans appear noble on paper but what could make the difference this time is implementing the same with all vigour as we are having these ideas raised differently in the past.

For instance, billionaire businessman Richard Branson had tinkered with the idea some years ago but his business model for Virgin Nigeria as he branded it was short-lived.  

Erstwhile advocates of a new national carrier project have made a U-turn, faulting the model of the proposed Nigeria Air that is scheduled for take-off in April 2022.

Members of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative, ASRTI, a think-tank group of the sector, flawed the five percent equity stake of the Federal Government, wet-leasing airplanes for operation, preference of a national airline in place of the flag carrier, and its anti-competition tendencies.

The Federal Government has projected that the airline would begin operations with three wet-leased aircraft and employ 70,000 Nigerians to surpass the Federal Government in job creation. The airline will also serve multiple international routes and the Single African Air Transport Market ,SAATM, agenda of the African Union.

President of ASRTI, Gbenga Olowo, said the idea of the government owning stakes in the carrier is discriminatory to other local airlines and would be inimical to free competition. Olowo said the alternative should be replicating equal commitments to all other airlines.

Secretary-General of the body, Group Capt. John Ojikutu ,retd, said the government had spent too much time on the national carrier to come up with a faulty model.

He called for a flag carrier rather than a national carrier which should have commanded more capacity for the government.

In all these labyrinths of forth and back over the issue, we see one aspect playing through the thread some stakeholders are weaving; It needs more transparency in the process of those critical stakeholders in the project which has only five percent going to the government. AljazirahNigeria reiterates the need for transparency in the process leading to the takeoff of the project.

Again, with the three aircrafts to be leased initially for the take-off, where do the other shareholders come in when these aircrafts are coming from ‘within?’

We do not align our thoughts with those who consider the Nigeria Air project is ill-timed, citing the crises dotting the aviation sector at the moment.

It is important for the various handlers of the project to be circumspect and patriotic by protecting national interests.

The humongous sums being appropriated must not be a waste but justifiable.

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