Nigeria: Reps Panel Asks Govt to Suspend Nigeria Air, Demand Prosecution of Officials Involved in Aircraft 'Unveiling.'

Nigeria Air

An aircraft purportedly belonging to the national carrier was unveiled by the immediate past Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport premises in Abuja on 26 May.

The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation has called for the suspension of the establishment of Nigeria Air.

It also called for prosecuting those involved in the unveiling of the national carrier by the previous administration, describing the exercise as a fraud.

The resolutions were reached on Tuesday during the committee's interactive session with some government officials and other relevant bodies in the sector at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja.

The Chairman of the Committee, Nnolim Nnaji (PDP, Enugu), read the resolutions of the Committee at the end of the interaction.

The session was attended by members of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), representatives of the Ministry of Aviation and others.

An aircraft purportedly belonging to the national carrier was unveiled by the immediate past Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport premises in Abuja on 26 May.

Not unveiling but a display of aspiration

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Aviation, Emmanuel Meribole, explained that the "unveiling" done by the former minister was not an official launching but a display of "aspiration". He added that the Ministry did not spend a dime on the event.

Mr Meribole admitted that Nigeria Air had not gotten the Air Operator Certificate (AOC) approval to operate as an airline.

"We are in the process, we have not gotten an AOC for us to do official launching. But the processes are ongoing.

"To the best of my knowledge, from 2017 till date, we have not spent up to N3.8 billion because that is the appropriation money. The appropriation is there. No kobo was approved by the ministry. No kobo was spent on the unveiling. The unveiling is "aspirational" to allow people to see," he said.

Speaking on the approval process, Interim Managing Director Nigeria Air, Dapo Olumide, also admitted that Nigeria Air had yet to get the AOC approval. He said the aircraft, painted the Nigeria Air colour, was a chartered flight that flew into Nigeria for 48 hours.

He stated that the "unveiling" was not an official launch because they had not started selling tickets. He added that the approval process is still in the first phase, with four more phases to go.

"The aircraft was a chartered flight. Of course, as an airline, you can make the colour anything you like. If you are going for a destination wedding, and you chartered an airline to take your guest to Accra. If you pay, you can have the tail painted with the picture of your wife. It does not matter. It is a chartered flight.

"The aircraft was to come to Nigeria, Abuja and return in 48 hours. It has nothing to do with the airline's launch; it is in phases. It has a process to go through with the regulators; we have phases one, two, three, four and five until you get the AOC certificate. Until then, you don't have an airline. This is not a launch of the airline, we have no airline, and we have not been selling tickets," he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Airline Operators, Roland Iyayi accused the ministry of conniving with Ethiopian Airlines at the detriment of Nigeria and the local aviation industry.

"Now we have a situation where supposedly shareholders are allocated shares. The Nigerian government has appropriated N85. 2 billion. How much has Ethiopian Airlines provided for 49 per cent? How much has SAHCO provided for 15 per cent?

"The point is - what exactly are we talking about when you're talking about Nigeria Air? In one breath, we are told in the outline business case that it is a flag carrier. In another breath, we were told it was a national carrier. There's a clear distinction between what a national carrier is and a flag carrier, and for all intents and purposes, what we have here is a flag carrier.

"Nigerians should not be hoping to believe we have a national carrier. What we're saying is we need accountability to tell us exactly what has been with all the funds appropriated since 2017 and 2016. And if indeed all the shareholders are party to this, how much have they contributed?

Resolutions of the Committee

At the end of the hearing, Mr Nnaji read a resolution of the committee, and it was carried by the members.

-The Committee, after careful evaluation of the issues on deliberation, is totally dissatisfied with the actions of the former Minister of Aviation, Sen, Hadi Sirka, in going ahead to flag off the operations of Nigeria Air despite a standing court injunction against such, and without any provision for sustaining the operations of the airline.

-We are equally irked by the role played by Ethiopian Airlines in this whole process. It does not speak well of the excellent brotherly relationship existing between our two nations.

-A careful review of the process indicates the exercise to be highly opaque, shrouded in secrecy, shoddy and capable of ridiculing and tarnishing the image of Nigeria before the international community. We want to put on record that the Committee and, indeed, the National Assembly had no role in the purported launch of Nigeria Air or anything related thereof.

-While the Committee and, indeed, the parliament is not opposed to Nigeria having a National Carrier, as a matter of fact, having a National Carrier is highly desirable to us as a people and Nigeria as a nation. However, such a process should be transparent and all-embracing. We, as a Committee, would not accept any attempt by any individual or group of individuals or organisations to hide under the project and siphon our commonwealths.

Consequently, the Committee hereby resolves to:

1. Direct the Federal Ministry of Aviation and its partners in the Nigeria Air project to immediately suspend flights operations and every other action with respect to Nigeria Air;

2. Urge our new President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR President and C-in-C, to, as a matter of urgency, constitute a high-level Presidential Committee to undertake a holistic Review of the Processes of the whole Nigeria Air project and advice the government on the way forward.

3. Ensure that all individuals, groups, or organisations involved in the controversial shenanigan named "Nigeria Air Take-Off" are brought to book, prosecuted and sanctioned

4. Advice that the Federal Ministry of Aviation with its agency, the NCAA to designate some Nigerian Indigenous Airlines as Flag Carriers to take advantage of Bi-lateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) entered into by Nigeria, pending when a viable National Carrier comes on board.

5. In conclusion, looking at the total amount required to fully start the airline, which is put at $250,000,000, the Nigerian government and its citizenry can raise these funds without necessarily subjecting itself to the ridicule we have been exposed to by this recent episode. This is what we suggest the new administration look into.

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