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The Nigeria Air

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Talk of a Nigerian national carrier was not given serious attention until a fortnight ago when the Federal Government unveiled the name, Nigeria Air…

Most Nigerians would probably love the idea of a national carrier. It could be great public relations seeing airplanes emblazoned with our national flag and coat-of-arms flying to all corners of the globe, spreading the good news about Nigeria and helping to lure foreigners to our shores as investors and tourists.

Yet, the talk of a Nigerian national carrier, which came along with the Muhammadu Buhari administration, was not given serious attention until a fortnight ago when the Federal Government unveiled the name, Nigeria Air, at the famous Farnborough Airshow in London.

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Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who has been a champion of the project said the national carrier would be run without political interference in terms of its recruitments and operations. He disclosed that the Federal Government investment would be not more than $300 million which would constitute five per cent equity interest. It would be financed through a tripartite arrangement of government budgetary provisions, private equity debt arrangement and finance syndication from a consortium of regional and international banks. Senator Sirika further said that the national carrier would be “managed fully by the private sector and run on a purely commercial business basis.”

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The minister put these conditions upfront to calm the nerves of many Nigerians, including the stakeholders who are rather skeptical of any further government foray into the airline business after the disastrous collapse of the Nigeria Airways which plunged the country into billions of naira debts, some of which the country is yet to pay off. Even so, the red flags are already being raised. The Managing Director of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Ahmed Kuru, observed that “it is baffling that 5 per cent of a start-up airline would cost $300 million, whereas Air France/KLM paid $286 million for 31 per cent of Virgin Atlantic recently.”

With two private airlines, Arik Airlines and Aero Contractors, gone into receivership in the last few months, and if existing airlines are struggling to barely survive, questions are being asked whether the environment is at all right for a new airline, let alone, a new national carrier. Besides, the collapse of the Nigeria Airways in 2003 after existing for some years is still a shock and the negative legacies it left behind, including an outstanding debt of N45 billion owed to Nigeria Airways employees, are sad reminders of the airline which had more than 53 planes in its fleet in 1983.

We think that some of the markers set down by the government, in terms of the modus operandi of the carrier, sound good on paper. But our experience in the past is that government has never been able to keep to such markers. The carrier being a political creation is bound to be infected with corruption, nepotism and political influences, unless some iron cast rules are put in place.

Nothing beats a good national carrier in projecting the image of a country. It could be an excellent ambassador. But it can only do these if it is well run. The Ethiopian Airline, the South African Airways, even when the countries don’t own 100 per cent equity, portray their countries in good light. But, the Federal Government’s decision to resuscitate a national carrier at this time cannot be supported. The facts on the ground show it is not well-thought through. There is no evidence of a thorough ground work that could guarantee competence and honesty, the sine qua non for a successful national carrier.

There is no doubt that without providing a better environment, the new carrier will only suffocate existing airlines and further endanger Nigeria’s aviation industry. Even foreign airlines say they are being overtaxed. We urge the government to make haste slowly and do more consultations on the project.

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