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Sirika faults local operators over zero stake in Nigeria Air

By Wole Oyebade
28 October 2022   |   4:04 am
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, yesterday, pushed back on local airlines’ claims that they were fenced out of the bid for the new nation carrier, to favour Ethiopian Airlines.

FG to sell five per cent stake to general public
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, yesterday, pushed back on local airlines’ claims that they were fenced out of the bid for the new nation carrier, to favour Ethiopian Airlines.

Sirika, at the Nigeria South-Africa Chamber of Commerce’s (NSACC) Breakfast Meeting in Lagos, sponsored by Phillips Consulting Limited (PSL), said he had begged the local operators to acquire equities in the new carrier, but they refused.

The local operators and other stakeholders have been critical of the choice of Ethiopian Airline owning 49 per cent stake in the new national carrier.

Sirika, who spoke virtually, said he held six meetings with the local carriers on the need to buy shares in the new carrier but his overtures were rebuffed, wondering what the indigenous airlines really want.

He explained that the national carrier project came as a result of lots of gaps in the industry, “talk of the failure of the indigenous airlines in the past, and the one-man-show attitude of the carriers”.

The minister hinted that the creation of Nigeria Air, where the government holds only five per cent, was deliberate, adding that the five per cent equity would be sold to the general public.

He said: “The airlines, under the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), are scared that the new airline would lower fares and not allow a level playing field. But, any decrease or increase in fares would have to go through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and stakeholders. These fears are unfounded. I told them this airline would not be given preferential treatment”.

Sirika added that he had been fair to local operators and supported their businesses. “None of them can complain that I turned down their requests. We are ever ready to support Nigerian airlines to Dubai, London, United States, and so many other places.

“They just need to organise themselves to take advantage of the burgeoning Nigerian and the African aviation market, which remains largely untapped.”

The minister also took a swipe at Nigerian airlines that had turned aviation into a philanthropic project, offering free services rather than seeing airline operations purely from a business angle.

“There is nothing bad in helping to bring stranded Nigerians back to the country or offer humanitarian support to bring people home but it should not be done at the expense of the profit that should accrue to the airline. Airlines’ profits are very marginal. We have seen how airlines like Kabo and Okada Air went under. Airline business is a serious business,” Sirika said.

A former Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), George Uriesi described the country’s aviation industry as “traumatic” with a myriad of challenges.

Uriesi listed some of the problems to include lack of investments; struggle to meet critical forex obligations, and struggle to offer sustainable and reliable services, maintaining that the problems of Nigeria’s aviation are self-inflicted.

Chairman of the NSACC, Osayaba Giwa-Osagie, said the current economic situation of foreign exchange scarcity, rising inflation and inadequate infrastructure are plaguing the aviation sector.

“To chart a new direction for the sector, all stakeholders have a role to play,” Giwa-Osagie said.

He stated further that the government must consider stimulus packages to support airlines towards aiding their smooth operations. According to him, there is a need for the government to implement policies and develop infrastructures that will strengthen the sector.

“Also stakeholders should constantly engage the government on ways to reposition the sector to be profitable and competitive. Air operators should adopt creative initiatives to help manage cost and build efficiencies,” Giwa-Osagie said.