Reps term Nigeria Air launch fraud, urge Tinubu to probe project
• Perm sec disagrees, insists due process was observed
The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, yesterday, said the launch of Nigeria Air by the Muhammadu Buhari administration was a fraud done in secrecy.
It specifically accused the outgone Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, of not carrying the National Assembly along in the whole process of establishing the national carrier.
Chairman of the committee, Nnolim Nnaji, stated this during a rescheduled investigative hearing on the controversial launch of the airline in Abuja.
At the meeting, major stakeholders in the deal involving the Federal Government and Ethiopian Airlines denied knowledge of the unveiling.
The stakeholders present at event included the Ministry of Aviation, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Airline Operators of Nigeria, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Skyway Aviation Handling Company Plc (SAHCOL).
The hearing was not without some drama, as government agencies and local private operators traded accusations and counter-accusations.
Members of the committee were also shocked when NAMA Managing Director, Tayib Mohammed Odunowo, revealed that the aircraft, bearing Nigerian colours, was a chartered flight from Ethiopia.
“We issued an approval for it. It was scheduled to go back the following day. The airline is an Ethiopian registration,” he stated.
Nnaji, while berating Sirika, who was absent and did not avail the panel relevant documents relating to the project, said the lawmakers were not in support of the purported launch, adding that as representatives of the people, they are not part of the exercise and“ we do not support the launch, especially at a time issues are yet to be cleared.”
He added that the purported commissioning done in the twilight of the last administration despite a court order was obviously not done with good intention.
Nnaji said: “Days After the launch, the social media was awash with commentaries suggestive of undercut activity, with active connivance of commercial entities, thereby ridiculing our beloved nation before the world.
“At this juncture, it is important to say that at all our previous engagements with the immediate past minister, Sirika, on the national carrier project, and after he announced Ethiopian Airline as major stakeholder with 49 per cent equity share and the Federal Government having a nominal share of five per cent, we requested for specific documents.”
“The ex-minister categorical said the requested documents were still being worked on by the ICRC and that the committee will be given the document the moment it is concluded.”
The panel chair continued: “As we speak, we are yet to be availed with the document and cannot say if ICRC has concluded its work, hence our decision to invite ICRC to this meeting.
“We believe that if the whole process had been transparent, the type of agitations and concerns being raised would not have arisen.”
But Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation, Dr. Emmanuel Meribole, claimed that the ministry followed due process in the establishment of the national carrier.
He argued that what was done was not launch but ‘unveiling’.
Meribole said it was unfair for the lawmakers to talk down on the project when all stakeholders were carried along.
Reminded that the two words meant same meaning, the lawmakers cautioned the permanent secretary against confusing Nigerians with semantics.
ICRC Director-General, Joe Ohiani, said both the Full Business Case and shareholders’ agreement on the national career had not been approved. He attributed the delay to litigation, noting: “The matter is in court, and that is the more reason we have not concluded the process.”
Ohiani promised that negotiation would resume once the court injunction is lifted.
Speaking on the certification process, Interim Managing Director of Nigeria Air, Capt. Dapo Olumide said: “We left stage one because we replaced our potholders. Postholders are key management of the airline. We replaced all of them, and when you replaced postholders, you have to go back to stage one. So now, we have finished phase one.”
Representatives of AON accused government officials of playing politics with the project.
They described the unveiling as a last-minute disobedience of court order, saying government officials connive with the Ethiopian airline to drive domestic airline operators out of business.
Specifically, former NAMA Managing Director and Managing Director of Topbrass Aviation, Captain Roland, claimed that the project had gulped about N85.4 billion, with nobody allegedly accounting for the funds.
However, Rolan’s accusation did not go down well with officials of the ministry and NCAA, who demanded evidence.
Representative of SAHCOL, Boye Oyewunmi, likened the launch to a naming done without birth certificate.
At the end of proceedings, the committee, therefore, directed the ministry and its partners in the project to immediately suspend flights and operations and every other action with respect to Nigeria Air.
It also urged President Bola Tinubu to urgently constitute a high-level presidential committee to undertake a holistic review of processes regarding the project.