The House of Representatives has expressed dissatisfaction with the actions of the former minister of aviation, 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.
Therefore, the House directed the Federal Ministry of Aviation and its partners in the Nigeria Air project to immediately suspend flight operations and every other action with respect to it.
The House reached these resolutions at a meeting with the Ministry of Aviation, its agencies and other stakeholders in Abuja yesterday.
The chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, while announcing the resolutions of the committee, urged President Bola Tinubu to constitute a high-level presidential committee to undertake a holistic review of the processes of the whole Nigeria Air project, and advise the government on the way forward.
Nnaji also called on the federal government to ensure that all individuals, or groups, or organisations involved in the controversial shenanigan named “Nigeria Air Take-Off” are probed, prosecuted and punished.
The House also directed the Federal Ministry of Aviation and its agencies to designate some Nigerian indigenous airlines as flag carriers to take advantage of Bi-lateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) entered into by Nigeria, pending when a viable national carrier comes on board.
“Looking at the total amount required to fully start the airline, which is put at $250,000,000, the Nigerian government and its citizenry can raise these funds without necessarily subjecting itself to the ridicule we have been exposed to by this recent episode. This is what we suggest the new administration look into,” he said.
Nnaji had earlier said the lawmakers were irked by the role played by Ethiopian Airline in the whole process as it does not speak well of the excellent brotherly relationship existing between the 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.
“We want to put it on record that the committee and indeed the National Assembly had no role in the purported launch of Nigeria Air or anything related thereof.
“While the committee and indeed the parliament is not opposed to Nigeria having a national carrier – as a matter of fact having a national carrier is highly desirable to us as a people and Nigeria, as a nation – however, such a process should be transparent and all embracing.
“We as a committee would not accept any attempt by any individual or group of individuals or organisation to hide under the project and siphon our commonwealths,” he said.
Earlier, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Aviation, Emmanuel Meribole, had told the Committee that Nigeria Air was not launched but unveiled, insisting that the Ministry followed due processes in the unveiling.
Meribole, however, reminded the lawmakers that Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) was in court on the matter and that it should not be discussed.
“I am not aware of any launch of Nigeria Air. What I saw in the media and what the minister rightly said was unveiling and not launching. The Nigeria Air did not start today. It was part of the roadmap that was approved by Mr. President in 2016.
“There are lots of other things in the roadmap of the education sector. Nigeria Air started from 2016, 2018 and the process of having partners came up in March 2021. We followed due process with the ICRC that was given birth to through a Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs),” he said.
On his part, the former managing director of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and managing director of Topbrass Aviation, Captain Roland, said Nigeria Air project had gulped about N85.4 billion appropriated as budgetary allocations.
He said: “We were told that we had institutional investors. Some of the AON members were interested in this transaction, contrary to what the minister has said, but we were quietly blocked out of the platform to be able to access any RFP documents.
“Now we have a situation where supposedly shareholders are allocated shares. The Nigerian government has appropriated N85. 2 billion. How much has Ethiopian Airline provided for 49 per cent? How much has SAHCOL provided for 15 percent?
“The point is, what exactly are we talking about when you’re talking about Nigeria Air? In one breath, we’re told in the outline business case that it’s a flag carrier. In another breath, we were told it’s a national carrier. There’s a clear distinction between what a national carrier is and a flag carrier, and to all intents and purposes, what we have here is a flag carrier.
“Nigerians should not be hoping to believe that we have a national carrier. What we’re saying is we need accountability – tell us exactly what has been done with all the funds appropriated since 2016. And if indeed all the shareholders are party to this, how much have they contributed?”
The director-general of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Joe Ohiani, disclosed that both the Full Business Case and shareholders’ agreement on the national carrier had not been approved.
Ohiani said: “So because it’s in court, we had a consultation with the Ministry of Justice. Even though ICRC was not joined as party to the case, the Ministry of Justice asked us to stay off.
“The next step will be the shareholders’ agreement has not been finalised. Negotiation to resume as soon as the court injunction is lifted. Full business case is to be prepared and submitted to the Federal Executive Council for approval.
“This has not been done. We have no issue with a Full Business Space certificate. Once it is presented to the Federal Executive Council and it is approved, it will now be forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Justice for vetting. Then there will be contract execution, but because of the court matter, the ministry of justice advised us and we took their advice. That’s the reason we have stopped further processes with the Nigeria Air. You will also notice I was not at the unveiling.”