By Lateef Aegbite
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, may have sent a message to Muhammadu Buhari, his predecessor that he will not continue with all the drain projects initiated by the Administration. As the new government recovers N45 billion from looters.
One of such projects was the controversial national carrier, Nigeria Air, which was said to have been shrouded in secrecy and owing to the difficulties of running such a business.
Senator Hadi Sirika, immediate past minister of Aviation at the instance of the former Nigerian President was said to have hurriedly unveiled the Nigeria Air on the last day of the government to give the impression that it has started the multi-million-dollar project.
Going by reports making the rounds, the project was said to have been valued to cost the government the North American country of the UniteS tates, US, $250 million but the minister had said that only N3 billion was released for it in seven years by the Buhari’s Administration. The former minister of Aviation had said that the funds were spent on ‘’cumulative services and office maintenance’’.
He notes that the total money budgeted for the project between 2016 and May 29, 2023, was N5 billion, out of which only N3 billion had been disbursed and not N85 billion as alleged.
The Senate Committee on Aviation may have started suspecting the funding of the Nigeria Air project as lacking in transparency as the then Buhari Administration could not secure the air Operating Certificate, AOC, an approval granted by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCA, to an aircraft operator to allow it to use its aircraft for Commercial flight operations. More wore worrisome was the fact that it could not secured a single aircraft for its operations.
This may have informed why the Committee, headed by Senator Biodun Olajimi, had convened a meeting with Emmanuel Meribole, Permanent Secretary of the ministry of Aviation, Capt. Dapo Olumide, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Air, and other Heads of the Aviation agencies in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT to get more information about the moribund aviation project.
Capt. Olumide, the Nigeria Air, Chief Executive Officer, CEO, was said to have admitted before the members of the Senate Committee on Aviation that the aircraft that was used by the former Buhari’s Administration to unveil the new national carrier was a chartered flight from Ethiopian airlines, a revelation that had sparked condemnation from the Lawmakers. This may have encouraged the Leadership of the Senate Committee to push for the suspension the project last June.
The House Committee on Aviation which was said to have also seen the project as a fraud may have pushed for the suspension of the national carrier project as well. The House Committee which had confirmed that the Nigeria Air project was ’’highly opaque, shrouded in secrecy, shoddy and capable of ridiculing and tarnishing the image of Nigerian before the international Community was said to have pushed to find out more details about the project
The House Committee was said to have resolved and directed the ministry of Aviation and Air Space and its partners in the Nigeria Air project to suspend operations and other actions linked to it.
The Committee was said to have gone a step further to call on the Nigerian President ‘’to Constitute a high- Presidential Committee to undertake a review of the processes of the Nigeria Air project and advice the government on the way forward’’. The Committee had enjoined the Nigerian government to ensure that Hadi, the former minister of Aviation, individuals and Organizations involved in the controversial Nigeria Air project that was said to have been used in siphoning country’s lean resources are brought’’ to book, prosecuted and sanctioned’’.
It was not surprising why the Nigerian President suspended the multi-billion naira Nigeria Air project, two months after he took over power on May 29, 2023. That much was confirmed by Allen Onyeama, Chairman, of Air Peace, which aircraft recently ran into problem in the Saudi Arabia town of Jedda recently.
Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN and a- one-time minister of State, Labour and Employment, under the Buhari’s Administration, and now minister of Aviation and Aerospace under the presen Tinubu’s Administration had said that the final decision whether to discontinue with the funding of the controversial Nigeria Air project or not rests on the table the President Tinubu.
Oyeama, Air Peace, Chairman, who had repeatedly said that the Nigerian government has no business in venturing into Commercial airline operations had said that that the national carrier thing is a moribund idea that has been jettisoned over the years by countries.
Describing the national carrier as moribund and a drain pipe., the Air Peace, CEO, noted that ‘’African countries with national carriers are those that cannot afford business entrepreneurs with the right funding’’. He may have alluded to the Ethiopia Airline floated by the Ethiopian government which had connived with the Buhari’s Administration to start the still born Nigeria Air.
Given that governments the world over have no business in airline operations may have forced Narendra Modi government in the Asian country of India to have moved full throttle with the reforms in the country’s Aviation sector as it has divested from the national carrier, India Air, handing over the management and its operations to Tatas, the preferred bidder and private airline.
Sirilanka, historically known as Cylon, is another Asian country that was said to have divested from the state run carrier Sirilankan Airlines as the Island seeks to reduce losses incurred by the government-owned enterprise under a $2.9 billion International Monetary Fund, IMF, , programme. The state owned airline was said to have lost $575 million between 2015 and at the time it was privatised. The private operator of the Sirilankan national carrier was said to have made a profit of $93 million between January and October, 2023, which was never the case in the past.
This may have necessitated the call by Oyeama, the Air Peace, helmsman to the Nigerian government ‘’to focus on Flag carrier and not on national carrier for now. Appealing to the Nigerian government not to be allowed to be dragged into the national carrier controversy, he would want the government to create the enabling environment for airline businesses to thrive.
Enough of the Nigeria Air. We turn to another wasteful project embarked upon by the Buhari’s Administration that had been halted by the Tunubu’s Administration. Tinubu may have shown that he was in agreement with the past Administration on the issue of the naira design policy, which he believes was targeted at him to cripple his Presidential ambition as he has halted the December 31, 2023, deadline to completely phase out the old N200, N500 and N1000 Notes, because of past experience.
Recall that Godwin Emefiele, the ormer CBN, governor, who has the ears of Buhari, for the eight year in office, and standing trial on a 20 counts initial charge to the tune of N6.5 billion which has been reduced to six , to the tune of N1.6 billion, had redesigned the old Notes of N200, N500 and N1000 at the instance of Buhari and set the December 31, 2023, deadline for the old Notes to cease to be the country’s legal tender.
Isa Abdulmumin , CBN’s Director of Corporate Communications , may have sent a shocker to the former Nigerian President who had expected Tinubu, his successor to continue from where he had stopped in the naira redesign project but got it wrong. Abdulmumin, the apex Bank’s spokesperson had stated that the old naira Notes of N200, N500 and N1000 will continue ‘’ to be accepted as the country’s legal tender indefinitely’’.
He had said that the apex Bank decision was in line with international best practices and to forestall a repeat of earlier hardship experienced by Nigerian within the last two years of the Katsina state born Nigerian President’s Administration.
Many believe that If it was possible for the Nigerian President to have extended the same treatment to the $19 billion, Aliko Dangote’s refinery, with a refining capacity of 650,000b/d he would have done it. This is because the Dangote’s refinery, which has the capacity to process 27 million litres, of Automotive Gs Oil, AGO, popular, diesel, 11 mill1ion litres of Dual Purpose Kerosene, DPK, and nine million litres aviation fuel on a daily basis was hurriedly commissioned by the former President to claim credit it was facilitated by his Administration.
The Nigerian government has 20 % stake in the Dangote’s refinery which is expected to get supplies of six cargoes of crude oil from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, now baptised Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, by the National Assembly, and signed into Law by the former President Buhari in August, 2021.
While President Tinubu, is still battling the problems left behind by the previous Administration which Nuhu Ribadu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police , AIG and former Executive Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had said cannot be solved over night, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, had said that the Tinubbu’s Administration has recovered over N45 billion that was stolen from government coffers by officials of the Buhari’s Administration. It was said to have also exposed and sanctioned several individuals and entities in terrorist activities in the country.
The minister was said to have made the disclosure at the 40th Technical Commission /Plenary Meeting ofthe Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money saundering in West African , GIABA, held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Nigeria. The AGF, had said that the recovery of N45 billion from looters was made possible by the Nigerian Financial Intellgence Unit , NFIU, which was aid o have widened the range of it financial intelligence it access and provide to other competent Authorities to do their job.
He noted hat the NFIU, was said to have also implemented a number of , including the Crime Information Management System, CRIMS, which was said to have revolutionalised the ministry’s approach to intelligence sharing.