Nigeria air hasn’t failed, it just had some roadblocks, says Aligbe
Six days ago, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Belujane Konzult Ltd., Mr. Chris Azu Aligbe joins the league of septuagenarians, having clocked 70 on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The former Corporate Affairs Manager of the defunct Nigeria Airways, who is currently an aviation consultant told GBENGA AKINFENWA what life at 70 means, issues surrounding the liquidation of the Nigeria Airways, and how Nigeria Air would bounce back in the next few months.
What does life at 70 mean to you?
It means all gratitude to God because there is no how one could live as long as that without realising that life is given by God, and so all gratitude to Him.
What it means is that it gives one so much opportunity to reflect on God and life, based on the fact that there is somebody who orders everything whether from the universe to everything that happens every day from somebody who owns your life and He takes it wherever He wants, and so if He leaves it, there is nothing than to thank Him for giving one life up to this point, for giving one opportunity, not only reflecting, but to see what life really means, life means living in the society and impacting the environment.
Nigerians for many years clamoured for the creation of a new national carrier after the liquidation of Nigeria Airways in 2003, last July there was a ray of hope with Nigeria Air logo unveiling, which turned out to be a stillbirth. What do you think is the problem?
I joined the aviation industry 11 years after graduation because after graduation I went into the civil service, from there I went into the diplomatic service, then public service where I worked with Tony Momoh, when he was a minister.
Then, I went to the main media stream, as Associate Editor, South for The Democrat Newspaper, before leaving in 1989 to join Nigeria Airways.
When I got in there, it was an exciting thing for me and I had to learn the ropes quickly. I had looked forward over the period so that Nigeria Airways will become a very strong airline, but as a result of frequent changes and whatever, maybe the government did not understand what it was to have a national carrier.
There was excessive interference in appointments, in decisions, so much that a chief executive officer that was appointed sometime ago could not take a normal decision.
The CEO could not take decisions on the staff without interference from the seat of power.
Eventually, we came to a point where the government decided to liquidate the airline, which was sad because the airline’s assets were about four times the liabilities. And if you are a private businessman, you can use some of your assets to clear up the liability and put the business on track, but the problem was determined, they claim part of the reasons for the liquidation was corruption, which is not true and they set up a panel, which was a hoax.
So that was just used as a smokescreen to achieve the purpose of liquidating the airline, the way they wanted to liquidate it. They couldn’t prosecute anybody with that document; they couldn’t even produce an appropriate white paper.
But the fact remains that we needed a major airline in the country, that is why every government that had come made an attempt to float a national carrier, but they did it wrongly and ended up in failure.
So, when this government came with it, everybody was looking up to it because Nigerians are suffering at the hands of foreign airlines and Nigeria has become where all airlines will get into and take up all the passengers, and the capital was increasing.
When the government came up with this, everyone was ready and they ensured that so much work was done, but people believe it has failed.
It hasn’t failed, it just had some roadblocks and that roadblock is what I am sure the government is trying to build because in the last stakeholders meeting, at Abuja the minister precisely said it had not failed and that it had not been cancelled. He assured that Nigeria Air was coming up in some months, and coming up strongly.
A lot of people believe this, it is not a scam but the due process was followed-advertisement, and getting the necessary approvals, it is at the verge of going to the next stage, which is advertising for the investors, that was the last stage, where it stopped. I am an advocate of national carrier because I know what we’ll gain from it, I know Nigerians are suffering. One airline in this country cannot serve Nigerians; we need about two strong airlines, so that we can take control of the African continent.
In 2016, the total number of passengers who passed through the nation’s airport was 15.2 million and about 4.2 million were airlifted by foreign carriers, which show Nigeria is losing a lot of money by not having a national carrier. What does government need to do to get formidable and maintain a national carrier?
First and foremost, though we need the national carriers as said, but it should never be in the genre of Nigeria Airways, where government owns 100 per cent equity or even government controlling even if it is 51 per cent.
Government should not be allowed to own major equity, this will ensure reduction in major decision-making. For me, I will say 10 per cent equity, but what is done is five per cent equity that is enough to give the airline a sovereign cover.
So, it must be in the hands of private managers not government decisions about management, taking decision about hiring and firing, taking decision about the kind of personnel to be hired, government should be completely removed from it because we do not have the discipline of controlling such a thing.
People will say Ethiopia airline, Emirate airline or whatever, it is true that they are all national carriers with 100 per cent government ownership, but we don’t have the discipline here, so government must not control the national carrier. All the national carrier needs is that it should have a sovereign cover, that’s where you know that government at least has some interest.
Air France to me has a 15 per cent equity holding by the French government, people don’t know, British Airways is owned by British citizens and whatever the citizens own belongs to the nation, that is the difference between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic is a private British flag-carrier, owned by the British national, an individual; it is not opened for investment by the nationals.
So, we must have something that is owned by the citizens of Nigeria, to be opened for investments, not everybody will invest but if it’s opened to investment like the banks-they no longer belong to individual Nigerians who have invested in them and that kind of a thing, we must be able to manage it professionally, that is one.
Two, we must have a technical partner. We must know that we are in a global village, we can’t exist alone. We need a sound technical partner that will help manage the place and put an arrangement in place that in the next few years, Nigeria will come up to the point that we would have learnt the ropes to become part of the management of the national carrier.
There is this issue of exploitation of Nigeria by foreign airlines, which started after the demise of the Nigeria Airways, with the country losing over $6.4b yearly to Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA). Who should be blamed for this colossal loss?
We should blame the government.
One, government was advised not to liquidate Nigeria Airways, not just by Nigerians, IFC when they were called in for the privatisation of Nigeria Airways, they gave two options: one, privatise the airline, two, turn around the airline, three, liquidate the airline.
They said look if you want to turn around, it would involve freeing the investment, two, government should not spend money investing in the turn-around. They looked at liquidation; they advised that under no circumstances should government liquidate the airline because there was much to be lost if the airline was liquidated and they now said government should work to privatise it.
These are the recommendations they made in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, who called in the IFC. And the administration accepted it, until politics came in and they decided to liquidate it.
Immediately that happened, the country was opened to exploitation and people blamed government for allowing foreign airlines to this place or that, while we are not going to those places.
Let me tell you, every state, every region where there is international airport will demand an international carrier, otherwise all of them will be flying into Lagos or flying into Abuja before they can get an international flight. One can realise the pressure.
When Nigeria Airways was there, this was what happened, Nigeria Airways would fly Kano-London; Lagos-Kano-London; it would fly Port Harcourt-Lagos-London.
To provide this regional cover, the people were not travelling from one point to another, and spending more. But the Nigeria Airways was liquidated, each of the places were opened and they started putting pressure, Kano, Port Harcourt, Abuja, and Enugu started putting pressure and government started having pressure.
After that, there is something coming on again, and domestic operators don’t seem to know, states are floating airlines. Do you know about Ibom Air? Imo Air? It is Dana that is operating Imo Air. Do you know that Dana has just reached an agreement with ASKY. ASKY is owned by the Ethiopia Airline and the Togolese government.
Now, they carry passengers from Owerri-Dana or Imo Air and come into Lagos and finally into ASKY to the west coast or whatever and Ethiopia airlines picks them up to destinations they are going, from there, it is starting operation from there to the US and whatever.
This is the killer to the domestic airlines, but they are not seeing it, they are looking at the national carrier. If there was a national carrier, this thing would not happen, a national carrier would cover each state, the states would not have reasons to float foreign airlines. It is the absence of this, and the domestic airlines are not seeing this.
In the next four, five years, it will become an issue that domestic airlines will be crying and you can’t stop states to stop their airlines, the constitution allows them. It is a coming tsunami to domestic airline operators, which they are not seeing today, but is gradually building up if we don’t have a national carrier.