… advocate flag not national carrier
…frown at bringing competitors on board
We need national carrier now more than ever – Aligbe
Aviation experts have come hard on the move by the Federal Government to float a national carrier, Nigeria Air, saying it is doomed to fail. The announcement by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, of the approval by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the establishment of the carrier, which has been in the works for some years, didn’t get the approval of these experts, as they said that it is going to fail like Nigeria Airways for several reasons. Aviation security consultant and former Commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (Rtd), who until now supported the national carrier project, said: “I was at the forefront of support for the project until yesterday (Wednesday). “When I saw that government is going to own just five percent equity share, I gave up.
Who are the other shareholders? We need to know the institutional investors. It would most likely go the way of Nigeria Airways if care is not taken. What is the actual fund for the setting up of the airline? How much does the five percent amount to? Government should set up a flag carrier and not a national airline. Government should not put a dime in this project.
“I am sorry to say that this airline may not last and may end up like Virgin Nigeria. How many aircraft are they bringing? We need to ask questions. We should not bring in our competitors as shareholders in the new project.” Similarly, media consultant, Simon Tumba, said the country was not in any position to woo the right investment to such high-risk megaprojects.
He said the country lacked financial discipline, especially with the government’s hands in business ventures. “Our government policy is so inconsistent that the next government can change everything overnight. Investors don’t like that. We need a long-term plan and strategy with the buy-in of all critical stakeholders and our policymakers to make progress. I would even suggest that the project is put into law, if possible.’’ However, the Chief Executive Officer of Belujane Consult and former spokesman for liquidated Nigeria Airways, Chris Aligbe, said it is the right thing to do as Nigeria needs a national carrier now more than ever.
Aligbe said that he expected Nigeria Air would have taken off much earlier, even before the COVID-19 induced economic crisis. He insisted that Nigerian aviation needed a formidable carrier in the status of a national carrier to go farther than any private carrier could do.
He said despite the paucity of global investors, the airline project was an opportunity for investors that would be ready to take the risk. He said: “We need a national flag carrier. It is necessary now if we are talking about Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFA) which tends to accelerate intra-African trade and boost Africa’s trading position in the global market by strengthening Africa’s common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations. We need an airline to drive it.
“We will lose out if we don’t take advantage of these two instruments that would boost trade across the continent of Africa.” The immediate past Secretary General of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Yinka Abioye, also backed the project. He said the Federal Government could actualise the national carrier if it was determined to do so. Abioye said Sirika should be given the necessary support to get the national carrier on board.
He said: ‘‘I wish to congratulate the minister for his foresight and commitment to the growth and development of the Nigerian aviation system. “As the de facto implementer of all relevant aviation policies, we shall look forward to seeing the national carrier unveiled as he has promised in 2022, God sparing our lives.
‘‘Since he holds the aces, he knows more than what we know and the processes of delivering this expected baby, we shall give him all the necessary support required. There is nothing impossible in Nigeria.” The move to start a new national airline is something that the nation has yearned for to replace the liquidated Nigeria Airways. More than 18 years after Nigeria Airways was liquidated, many Nigerians still remember with nostalgia how the carrier creditably flew the nation’s flag and how it was a recognisable brand all over the world.
The demise of the airline helped by former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration left many with pain, anger, and personal loss as they were of the view that the carrier could have been saved despite its several challenges. The decision by the Federal Government in 2004 to set up Virgin Nigeria raised many questions regarding the proprietary of doing that at a time the country could have set up an airline without the help of businessman, Sir Richard Branson. Virgin Nigeria was a success within the short period it operated before a disagreement between the governments of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Branson saw the latter take away his investment. The action forced the government to sell the airline to a businessman, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim. The airline eventually said goodbye to the skies in what remains a painful trajectory of how the country tried unsuccessfully to float an airline. Former Ministers of Aviation, Dr. Kema Chikwe, and Ms. Stella Oduah tried unsuccessfully to bequeath the country with a national carrier with funds wasted on the venture.
Enter President Muhammadu Buhari who made national carrier for Nigeria one of his campaign promises. The slow pace of actualizing the project led to the loss of hope that the project would go the way of other promises. Three years ago, the Federal Government unveiled Nigeria’s new national carrier in London. The Nigeria Air project has however remained a dream with little or no hope of becoming a reality. The Federal Government on July 18, 2018, unveiled the name and logo of the proposed carrier at the Farnborough International Public Airshow in London, United Kingdom (UK) ahead of the planned initial take-off on December 24 of that year. The lack of budgetary provision and criticism by the public forced the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika,Teleto “temporarily” ditch the December 2018 roll-out plan after about N80 million was reportedly expended. Sirika, however, denied the claim, saying less than N10 million was spent.
The Federal Government through Sirika raised the country’s hope on Wednesday (November 24, 2021) following announcement after the week’s FEC meeting presided over by Buhari that the new airline would take off in April 2022. The Minister stated that government would hold a 5% stake, Nigerian entrepreneurs holding 46% while the remaining 49% will be reserved for yet to be assigned strategic equity partners, including foreign investors. He further noted that the national carrier, when operational, will create about 70,000 jobs for Nigerians.
His words, “The structure of the proposed airline; the government will be owning not more than 5%. So 5% is the maximum equity that government will take, then 46% will be owned by Nigerian entrepreneurs. ”So, if you add that, it’s 51%. So, its 51% majority shareholding by Nigerians and then 49% will be held by strategic equity partners that will be sourced during the procurement phase, which is the next phase.”