By Elizabeth Chukwuma
More facts have emerged why the Nigeria Air, floated by the Federal government about a year and six months ago, to replace the defunct Nigerian Airways, could not fly. This is because the legal tussle between the Federal Government, FG, and five domestic Airline operators which include Azman, Air Peace and Max Air , United Nigeria Airlines and Top Brass Aviation over the proposed Nigeria Air and the Ethiopian Airlines partnership.
This may have informed why the N16 billion proposed airline, which have continued to pick up budgetary allocations with additional N1.3 billion in the 2023, appropriation bill, wings appear to have been broken.
Note that the domestic airline operators had headed to court on November 19, 2022, ‘’to challenge the logic of the proposed Nigeria Air being operated by Ethiopian Airlines’’. They were said to have queried ‘’the project’s lack of transparency on funding and alleged zero consideration for local operators to manage the project in the national interest’’.
The Katsina state born politician and minister of Aviation, Hadi Serika, had told the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, that the Nigerian government owns only five percent of the shares of the proposed Nigeria Air, because of the believe in both official and unofficial circles, that companies run by the government would never succeed, giving what happened to the defunct Nigerian Airways.
The minister was said to have told the House Committee on Aviation said that the Ethiopian Airline Consultative Committee, owns 49% stake in the Nigeria Air project while the Nigerian investors, own 46% .Going by the government projection, the national airline ought to have started operations last December, with three leased aircraft as the partners and investors have been identified .
It was learnt that the government has negotiated and processed the Air Operator Certificate, AOC, of the Airline preparatory to its take-off. Given the FG, determination to see to the quick resolution of the legal battle stalling the Nigerian Air project, may have informed why the Federal ministry of Aviation .has sought the transfer of the case that was said to have been instituted by the five domestic Airline operators at a Federal High Court in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre to a Federal High Court in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Judicial Division.
Abubabakar Malami, minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, had said that hearing of the suit in Lagos, would add to the financial burden of the Nigerian Air Limited, Ethiopian Airlines, ministry of Aviation and the ministry of Justice, which are the defendants.
Worried by the delay in the take- off of the Nigeria Air project, may have informed why President Muhammadu Buhari, have taken advantage of being in Addis Ababa, Capital of Ethiopian, for the African Union, AU, Heads of States and Government ,Summit, on Sunday, February 19, 2023,, to meet with Girma Wake, Ethiopian Airlines, Board Chairman. The Ethiopian Airline Board was to have been accompanied by Mesyfin Tasswe, Group Chief Executive Officer, GCEO, of the Ethiopian Airlines, and Daniel Abebe, Group Vice President , Strategic Planning and Alliances , to see the Katsina state born President for the scheduled meeting. They were said to have exchanged view on the operationalisation of the Nigeria Air.
As a prelude for the operation of the Nigerian Air, Wake, the Ethiopian Airline Board Chairman, was said to have given the Nigerian President some conditions that needed to be met before the Air Nigeria could be operated by the Ethiopian Airline which include ‘’a resolution of the legal obstacle halting the Nigeria Air project, from commencing operations. He was said to have also requested ‘the repatriation of the airline funds trapped in Nigeria over foreign exchange challenges.
An aggrieved Buhari, had informed the Ethiopian Airlines Authorities that ‘’it was a weighty decision by the Nigerian government to re-launch a new national carrier, assuring the Ethiopian Airlines Management Consultants that things will be alright.
Wake, the Ethiopian Airlines Board Chairman, may have gladden the heart of Buhari, when he said that the Ethiopian Airline has been treated very well in Nigeria since it started operations 60 years ago in the coutry’’. He noted that ‘’Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is not just a market but a hub for Aviation in the African Continent’’.
Describing Nigeria as a special country, the Ethiopian Airline Board Chairman, disclosed that that ‘’nobody travels more around the globe than Nigerians. He is right. Virtually on a daily basis, scores of Nigerians including Medical Doctors are leaving the country to Europe, United Kingdom, UK, the North American country of the United States US, United Arab Emirates, UAE, (Dubai), in search of greener pastures.
Despite the legal obstacles obstructing its take of the Management and control of the Nigeria Air, Wake, the Ethiopian Airline Board Chairman, who could not hide his feelings, may have said to the hearing of the Nigerian President that that the Airlines has plans to expand its operations in the country, with additional flights to Lagos from Addis Ababa as well as Abuja-Addis Ababa.
He was emphatic that that the Airlines and its partners are ready to commence operations on Nigeria Air as soon as all legal issues are resolved. Many believe that Pesident Muhammau Buhari, who is preoccupied with the conduct of the 2023, general elections that would usher in a new government, may not be able to do it before the termination of the termination of Administration on May, 29, 2023, which may be a set back to the multi-billion national carrier project.