24 November 2012

Nigeria: Bring Back Nigeria Airways


Nigerian government officials are fond of asking foreigners to help them do things that should be better done by competent Nigerians. And even when the foreigners appear ready to help, the government officials hardly show enough seriousness to win the former's confidence.

On Thursday, for instance, the CEO of British Airways (BA), Mr. Keith Williams, said the company would partner with the federal government to ensure it brings back the national carrier, Nigeria Airways. Lufthansa had offered to train Nigerians but it never received a list of those to be trained; the next move Nigeria's aviation minister Stella Oduah made was to terminate the MoU it signed with the German airline.

It is sad that we have to return to former colonial masters to rejuvenate the Nigeria Airways that was once the pride of the continent and the black race. Is it surprising that the BA chief is talking about partnership? Nigeria has been an important market for BA, which has been operating in the country since 1936. Why would a company that has been through fiscal turmoil lately want to "partner" with us?

Lufthansa's advice that a Nigerian carrier must develop from within and not from outside is very honest. We have an army of aeronautical engineers, pilots, cabin experts and aviation activists in the country.

At the height of its glory, Nigeria Airways was professionally managed and was respected for its courteous, customer-friendly crew and comfortable airplanes. Corruption, mismanagement and unethical practices later crippled the national carrier.

By the late 1990s, Nigeria Airways had become like a leper in a colony of airlines in the continent. Not only had it been used and dumped through the series of partnership and bilateral air service partnerships it entered into, Nigerians had been extorted by other airlines that were second-rated during Nigeria Airways' heyday.

Nigerians are now riled by smaller countries with lucrative airlines that signpost their national pride and business acumen across Africa and Asia.

All Nigeria needs to do is build its domestic and regional aviation industry, and interface and negotiate with others on favourable terms in tandem with the ongoing merger activities between world leading airlines.

Nigeria has the bargaining power of huge population, heavy domestic and international travel traffic and markets for the growth and sustenance of the national carrier. The ripple effect on job creation, trade flows and national pride cannot be overestimated.

It is not true that government has no business in business; were it so, public-private partnerships would have been a global anathema. In future, Nigeria may compromise its sovereignty by even awarding contracts for governance to outsiders.

Until then, however, government will do well to return to the drawing board: pull together boardroom gurus, professional aviation experts and managers in order to put Nigeria Airways back in the air.

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