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EDITORIAL

Suspended National Carrier, Another Drainpipe

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There is no doubt that having a national carrier is not just a venture that adds a lot of economic value to a country, it is also a source of national pride to see the country’s aeroplanes flying in and out of the world’s major capitals and cities bearing the country’s colours This was the kind of national value the country was supposed to derive from operating the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways, until it was scrapped by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration after it was discovered that insider abuses, corruption and other unethical practices by administrators and politicians had crippled the airline as a viable entity.

So when the current administration declared the ambitious plan to birth another national carrier, it was met with a lot of incredulity and criticism, especially as the over N45billion worth of liabilities incurred by the defunct airline in the form of retirement entitlements of former workers had yet to be cleared. But this did not deter the proponents of a new national carrier, especially the minister of state for aviation, Hadi Sirika, who went about trying to sell the idea. However, on September 19 this year, he announced the indefinite suspension of the planned national carrier, Nigeria Air, citing ‘strategic reasons’. Earlier in July , Sirika had launched the proposed carrier’s branding and livery at a press conference during the Farnborough Air Show in London, United Kingdom, giving the assurance that the carrier would be inaugurated at the end of the year.

“I am confident that we will have a well-run national flag carrier that is a global player, compliant with international safety standards and one which has the customer at its heart,” Sirika had stated at the time. The proposed airline, which Sirika said will gulp $8.8 million as preliminary cost and $300 million as take-off cost, would be executed through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the first set of five airplanes for the airliner arriving December 19, 2018.He also said that the federal government would maintain zero management interference but would provide funds for aircraft acquisition and start-up of the company, arguing that only through this joint venture initiative would such an enterprise survive.
However, despite his assurances and optimism, aviation industry experts and other commentators had raised doubts about the feasibility of the national carrier going by some of the approaches and measures adopted by those driving the project.

One of them, a former World Bank Vice President for Africa and minister of education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, who had consulted for some African countries on the viability, or otherwise, of such enterprises, had warned that the project would constitute a waste of public resources as it had no chance of success. Others were more virulent in their condemnation. It was also believed that the project did not enjoy the approval of the National Economic Council (NEC). As a newspaper, we are constrained to condemn the flagrant waste of public funds in the Nigeria Air mess. It was a project doomed to fail from the outset. First it could never qualify to be described as a national carrier going by its ownership structure. While the aviation minister refuted the reports that despite the huge outlay in hundreds of millions of dollars the Nigerian government was committing to the project, it would only have five percent equity in the airline, he, however, could not tell the extent of Nigeria’s stake in the business. Such haziness in such a big national project is unacceptable.

It is worth pointing out that national carriers are very strategic national assets and government-owned. They embody national ethos, security and diplomacy, things not left to the control and administration of private hands, especially foreign players. Ethiopian Airlines, which is a model of a successful national carrier in Africa, is owned by the Ethiopian government. It is evident that this project did not go through proper evaluation and planning before the proponents rushed into it, neither did it get the buy-in of local industry professionals. In the wisdom of its drivers, Nigeria Air’s logo was designed in Bahrain and unveiled in the UK. For a country where government cannot provide even the most basic needs of its people due to scarce resources, the flagrant waste of billions of naira in such a reckless manner despite all the indications and warnings is not forgivable in any serious country. It is tantamount to an economic sabotage and the matter should not be swept under the carpet.In our considered opinion, the fede ral government should constitute a public inquest to determine the total amount lost to this ill-fated white elephant, identify those responsible and prosecute them accordingly to serve as a deterrent to others.





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