“A man is worked upon by what he works on.”
Nigeria’s troubled aviation industry stinks. It stinks of the disturbing rancid odour of the scam allegedly packaged and sold to Nigerians as the new national career – Nigeria Air – by the immediate past Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, at the twilight of the administration of erstwhile President Muhammadu Buhari.
The obstinate minister had defied a subsisting restraining court order and unveiled the controversial airline on Friday, May 26, the very last working day of the eight-year tenure of the administration.
And since then, tongues have been wagging among the industry stakeholders as to the propriety of the premature launch of the repackaged airline.
The Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, had on April 15, 2023, issued the order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government and other parties from executing the proposed national carrier pending the determination of the substantive suit filed by the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) seeking to halt the process.
However, symptomatic of the above-the-law attitude of some of the appointees of the former president, Sirika allegedly ignored the said order and launched the airline, perhaps with a nodding acquaintance of a deep sense of self-fulfillment from his boss.
If not, he could not have taken the risk of facing the consequences of a contempt of court charge in such a brazen manner without the tacit approval of the powers that be. Shortly after the aircraft landed, Sirika was quoted to have expressed delight, saying “a very long, tedious, daunting and difficult path”, the project had taken off.”
For him, it was a dream come true. But for the industry stakeholders, the needless rush for the launch of the age-long anticipated airline at that inauspicious moment can only provide a cover-up for corruption, which would be another recipe for future crises and mindless compromise of safety standards.
Without any iota of doubt, both in intent and action, the issue goes beyond the minister. Digging deep into the root of the matter, there is a big masquerade behind the scene dishing out counter orders. In the fullness of time, all of these alleged atrocities and those fanning them would be unraveled.
In the meantime, Sirika is already being put on the defensive for the surreptitious manner with which he allegedly conceived the shoddy deal with Ethiopian Airlines, packaged the dummy, and delivered it pronto without caring a hoot about the consequences of his action on the overall health of the ailing aviation sector or its embarrassment to the nation.
Before the final closure of the plenary of the 9th National Assembly, last week, the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation had a look at the issue and concluded that the unveiling of the Nigeria Air was a fraud. It, therefore, urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to as a matter of urgency constitute a high-level Presidential Committee to undertake a holistic review of the processes and advise the government on the way forward. The lawmakers also directed the Federal Ministry of Aviation and its partners in the Nigeria Air project to immediately suspend flight operations and every other action concerning the airline.
A statement by the chairman of the Committee, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji, reads in part: “That after careful evaluation of the issues on deliberation is 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.”
All available media reports also confirmed some of these allegations and other startling revelations of underhand dealings that culminated in the birth of the airline at the eleventh hour of the terminal end of the last administration. For the wrong timing and hasty decision to unveil the airline, there is widespread insinuation in the conventional and social media, ascribing the ownership of the Boeing 737-800 series aircraft flown into Abuja from Addis Ababa to Ethiopian Airlines. Much more curious is this trending news that the aircraft took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at 9:55a.m on May 26 and landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, at 12:43 p.m.
Subsequently, the minister unveiled the aircraft with registration ET-APL at the General Aviation Terminal of the Abuja airport.
All of these were said to have been done to secure an operating licence for the aircraft from the NCAA preparatory to full flight operations, which were still in the early stages. Yet, two issues are begging for answers. One is how to situate the role of Ethiopian Airlines in the new national career deal. The second is to interrogate the NCAA for looking the other way while these alleged infractions were going on. Both are closely connected to the standard safety measure in the industry, which cannot be swept under the carpet because a single mishap in the sector can put the nation in the global spotlight negatively. All the Ministry of Aviation has done is delving into the semantics, saying the airline was unveiled and not launched, which the House Committee dismissed as an attempt to divert attention away from the main issues.
Olumide, who spoke before the committee on behalf of the ministry, had this to say: “The aircraft was used pending the completion of the processes required for the operation of the airline.
“What we did was to unveil the logo of Nigeria Air. Ever since 2018, all you have ever seen about Nigeria Air were pictures, and drawings, not the real aircraft, and we thought it was time to show what the real aircraft will look like also to let shareholders see. We have institutional investors, they are not in aviation, but they are putting their money for 10 to 15 years, so they need to see what the actual aircraft will look like.
“So, we brought it in here to show them what the aircraft will look like, then the social media dimension came into it.
“For us to get that licence which is my mandate, we must among other things have three aircraft before the NCAA will give us a licence and those three aircraft must be Nigerian registered aircraft.” What then happens after showcasing the colour and the logo of the aircraft, which does not belong to Nigeria, but is meant to satisfy the curiosity of the Nigerian public? The answer is in the wind. This is repugnantly scandalous! And it hurts people’s collective sensibility.
One of the things Nigerians have against Buhari is his leadership style of assigning responsibility to people without asking questions. It was former President Olusegun Obasanjo who said in his testy riposte to the prolonged tragic-comedy drama of the late Yar’Adua’s ill health that “You can help someone to get a job, but you cannot help him to do it.” True! But it is also another height of irresponsibility not to ask how well that an individual is doing on his job because, if you don’t, his failure will rob your integrity and reputation.
From the way things are going, Buhari himself may be de-robed of his toga of piety and incorruptibility if Sirika failed to answer the questions of openness and transparency in the whole process that culminated in the unveiling of the new national career.
Among several others, Sirika is one of the long-standing allies of Buhari in the defunct Congress for Progressives Change who enjoyed so much largesse of office during the eight-year tenure of the last administration, but contributed so little in terms of innovative reforms to the development of their areas of primary assignments.
Upon his appointment into the ministry as a trained pilot, expectations were high that his reign would serve some reference purposes. Instead, he left in his trail a tale of corruption and controversy that will continue to dog his footsteps for a long time to come.