Operators kick as FG takes delivery of Nigeria Air planes against court order
Airline operators and aviation stakeholders, yesterday, kicked as the Federal Government mulled the delivery of two Nigeria Air airplanes today, to herald the takeoff of the controversial national carrier.
The stakeholders, under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), faulted the project coming upstream on the last day of the current administration and in violation of extant court orders on status quo ante.
The Guardian, yesterday, learnt that at least two equipment, in Nigeria Air livery, will fly in from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today, in line with the Minister of Aviation’s recent promise that the airline would still take off before Monday, May 29.
Contrary to court orders, the minister, Hadi Sirika, had said that the aircraft would be unveiled in Nigerian colours in fulfillment of all promises the Buhari-led administration made in the aviation sector.
But the AON has described the new twist as a last-minute disobedience of court order, attempt to muddle the water through a phantom project, and an effort to “rubbish” the Buhari-led administration.
Solicitor to the AON, Abubakar Nuhu Ahmad, of the Nureini Jimoh (SAN) Chambers, in a memo to the Attorney General of the Federation, yesterday, drew attention to the pending suit number: FHC/L/CS/2159/2022, challenging the “shady deals, deliberate infraction of the Nigerian laws and self-enrichment/corruption,” against the Federal Ministry of Aviation on the Nigeria Air project.
Ahmad said that in the said suit, the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos headed by Justice A.L Allagoa, granted three separate orders of injunctions, restraining the defendant from taking of any step about the Nigeria Air project.
He noted that while the administration would hand over on Monday, May 29, 2023, “the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, is planning to circumvent the Court Orders on Friday, May 26, 2023, being the last working day of this administration, and possibly to cover up the various infractions of Nigerian laws, amongst others.
“The minister is planning to hurriedly bring in two aircraft and pretend that Nigeria Air has commenced operation. Aside from moral justification for commercial operation after the last day in office, it is a clever way to violate the court orders.” Ahmad stated.
He added that the action had no regard to whether or not it will stain the record of this administration, “whether or not it will cover for corrupt actions raised in the suit and deliberately meant to violate Court Orders for self-serving purposes.”
“We, therefore, employ your excellency to stop this action of the Minister of Aviation, ensure compliance with the terms of the order and avoid needless controversies on the action after your tenure has expired.
“Notwithstanding, our client will still pursue contempt action against the Minister personally whether or not he left office, for the promotion of the rule of law, protection of the integrity of the court, and in line with international best practices,” the memo stated in part.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, in November 2022, ordered all parties involved in the proposed national carrier to maintain the status quo, effectively truncating the December take-off date as pledged by the minister.
The court gave the order upon receiving the application of the AON, urging the court to stop the national carrier deal and withdraw the Air Transport Licence (ATL) already issued to Nigeria Air by the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Operators, like Air Peace, United Nigeria, Azman, and Top Brass, claimed that the firm that served as Transaction Adviser for the transaction was incorporated in March, last year, and alleged that the company was linked to the aviation minister. The local airlines further alleged that the ATL issued to Nigerian Air did not pass through normal security clearance.
A stakeholder, who did not want to be mentioned, regretted that after seven years and billions wasted on the project, the minister is still bent on creating landmines for the next administration.
He described the national carrier project as one of the most wasteful ventures ever undertaken in Nigeria’s aviation history.
He said: “Can the Civil Aviation Authority confirm which AOC Nigeria Air is using? Has an AOC been issued and when was it issued?
“In all honesty, is this airline founded on a solid foundation to meet the aspirations and dreams of Nigerians? Or is it just a feat to cover the wasteful and shambolic project of Hadi Sirika? It has every inclination of a faulty foundation, and that is where the problem is for the next administration. An airline business is not a venture you hatchet under the table and expect to fly. No! A minister should know this. That we are having this conversation itself is a shame,” he said.