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Nigeria’s quest for national carrier

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Nigeria’s quest for national carrier

The establishment of a national carrier for the country, Nigeria Air, is in top gear as a result of repeated calls from a section of the society.
Nigeria Air is scheduled to commence operations on December 19, 2018. The proposed national carrier targets 81 routes, comprising 40 domestic, regional and sub-regional and 41 international routes.
In the early 1960s and 1970s, Nigerians took great delight in national companies like Nigeria Airways and Nigeria National Shipping Line, among others.
Unfortunately, mismanagement became the lot of public companies and government business. Many of these public institutions became channels for siphoning public funds, prompting their eventual commercialisation or outright privatisation.
Despite the controversial history of Nigeria’s national airline, top-level discussions on establishing a new national carrier have been very frequent in the aviation sector.
No doubt, the country had made several attempts at reviving the national carrier with the first being the ugly experience of operating the defunct Nigeria Airways.
Memories are still fresh at another attempt involving Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, which, however, collapsed. Other attempts to float a national carrier such as ‘Air Nigeria’ and ‘Nigerian Global’ were not successful after spending huge public resources.
Although having a national carrier has its merits and demerits, the latter are basically what obtain with the involvement of government in business activities as poor performance, inefficiency and waste become the hallmark, especially in a country like Nigeria where corruption is rife.
On the other hand, the merits include the capability to promote the abundant tourism industry as well as generating revenue for the country.
Despite the fears being nursed over government’s plans for the new deal, having a national carrier would make it possible to enjoy the benefits of Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA), which allows international and commercial air transport mechanisms to freely move between territories. As at today, most of the bilateral agreements are in favour of foreign airlines at the expense of domestic ones. This would be corrected with a national carrier in place.
Those genuinely clamouring for a national carrier are impressed with the success stories of continental ones like Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, Egypt Air and South African Airways that have become formidable and efficient airlines.
Ethiopian Airlines alone currently flies to over 80 international destinations across five continents with over 200 daily flights.
The floating of a new national airline was one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign promises. His directive to the ministry to get a committee to review modalities for floating a viable, competitive carrier was a good statement of intent in the national interest that should be followed by a sound business management plan.
Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, seemed to have followed in that stead when, in July this year, he unveiled a new airline for the country named Nigeria Air in Farnborough, United Kingdom.
The Federal Government, according to Sirika, would only own a maximum of five per cent shareholding and that the venture would be public-private partnership (PPP). Therefore, 95 per cent of the investment would be private-sector driven.
This is in line with the Outline Business Case certificate of compliance the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) handed to the minister.
We support the position of ICRC that the project should be private-sector driven. The airline should be devoid of control and management by government. The inefficiency of government killed the defunct Nigeria Airways.
In an increasingly globalised world, smart governments recognise the importance of having their flags fluttering on as many routes as possible. It is a message that certainly hasn’t been lost on Singapore, whose government owns the highly respected Singapore Airlines, or Dubai, home of Emirates. In both cases, these small states have made their airplanes part of their national identity and growth strategy.
The experience with liquidated Nigeria Airways has equally led to pessimism of the project succeeding. Pessimism equally arises from the high mortality rate of Nigerian carriers. Going back to almost 40 years, government airlines, including pioneer private carriers such as Kabo, Okada, Arik and others, failed.
Unfortunately, the limited private airlines that attempted doing so do not seem to have the wherewithal and capacity to fund such extensive foreign operations. In addition to serving as a platform for conveying passengers to their various destinations, a national carrier remains a vehicle for international relations and trade.
A successfully-run national carrier is capable of changing the debilitating outlook of Nigeria that has been losing about $2.3 billion annually in capital flights to foreign airlines.
Nigerians are being promised a very robust corporate governance framework right from inception with strong measures to keep the venture firmly under private management and control – to be free from government interference, or so it seems.
No sooner had the launch of the brand name and logo been concluded than concerns were raised by many Nigerians.
As Nigerians look forward to its take off, we believe that Nigeria Air should be seen in the next few months as a positive development.
We are also of the view that whoever dashes this hope again will certainly be listed in the country’s Hall-of-Shame archive.
To avoid any form of conflict, we advise that government have a roundtable discussion with the stakeholders on the effective take off of the project.

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