The House of Representatives, on Tuesday, declared the purported launching of Nigerian carrier, Air Nigeria, at the twilight of the administration of Muhammadu Buhari a fraud. The parliament asked President Bola Tinubu to suspend the process and probe those involved with the aim of prosecuting them.
The declaration followed the denials by the relevant agencies of the Federal Government and regulators in the aviation sector as well as private partners of being involved in the exercise.
At an investigative hearing organised by the House Committee on Aviation in Abuja, authorities such as Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission as well as an investor, Skyway Aviation Handling Company Plc, distanced themselves from the launching.
Chairman of the committee, Nnolim Nnaji, consequently declared the flag-off a fraud.
Nnaji said: “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.”
The chairman added, “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 organisation to hide under the project and siphon our commonwealths.”
Consequently, the committee resolved to “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.”
The committee also urged President Bola Tinubu 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 advise the government on the way forward.”
The lawmakers also urged Tinubu to “ensure that all individuals, or groups, or organisations involved in the controversial shenanigan named ‘Nigeria Air Take-Off’ are brought to book, prosecuted and sanctioned.”
The committee advise the Federal Ministry of Aviation and the relevant agencies to “designate some Nigerian indigenous airlines as ‘flying carriers’, to take advantage of Bi-lateral Air Services Agreements entered into by Nigeria, pending when a viable national carrier comes on board.”
The lawmaker concluded, “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.”
However, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace, Emmanuel Meribole, denied that the Federal Government launched Nigeria Air, saying what was done was “unveiling,” stating that “nobody said it was launching.”
Meribole also said the Nigeria Air, as a project, was part of a roadmap for the aviation sector that was approved by former President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016. He noted that the process of having partners for the national carrier commenced in March 2021. “We followed due process with the ICRC that was giving birth to it through PPP (Public-Private Partnership),” he said.
The permanent secretary also noted that the Airline Operators of Nigeria had sued the ministry.
Nnaji asked the ministry’s scribe if he was aware of the court order asking all parties to stay action on Nigeria Air and while the national carrier was unveiled regardless. Responding, Meribole said, “The court order said ‘stop negotiations’ which is different from unveiling.”
While the permanent secretary insisted that unveiling is different from launching “based on my knowledge”, the committee disagreed, with the chairman stating, “We want to put it to you that what happened that day was launching, not unveiling. They are the same thing. You don’t use English terms to confuse us.”
Speaking for the AON, Roland Iyayi, noted that the association obtained three court orders against the Nigeria Air project which were specific.
Iyayi, a former Managing-Director of NAMA and President/CEO of Top Brass Aviation Limited, said, “The primary content of each one says that all actions regarding Nigeria Air – all – be stopped; maintain status quo as of the day the order was given. That, to us, means that anything – negotiations, discussions, transactions – must be stopped, including unveiling or launching.”
The AON also dismissed the claim by the Meribole that what the ministry did was a mere “static display” of the supposed Nigeria Air aircraft, stating that such are only done at air shows and not at an operational level.
In his presentation, the Director-General of ICRC, Michael Ohiani, stated that the process leading to Nigeria Air was incomplete even as of the time the court suspended the process.