National carrier: Case for a Nigerian airline
As you may be aware, a few weeks before former President Muhammadu Buhari exited office, Nigerians were serenaded by news of the bogus establishment of Nigeria Air, a scheme conceived and implemented by the Muhammadu Bauhari-led government.
However, recent events have shown that not only was the establishment of the airline dubiously packaged by the Buhari administration, but also the shareholding structure has the likelihood of impacting negatively on the country’s national economy, with very grave consequences for our country’s well-being.
Before going into the economic implications, I would like to draw attention to the choice of Ethiopian Airlines as the majority shareholder of Nigeria Air. In an unprecedented manner and against all known norms across major national airlines in the world, the immediate past administration sanctioned a shareholding structure that saw Ethiopian Air, another nation’s national airline taking over 50% of what purports to be a Nigerian national carrier. An aberration! All over the world, National Carriers are either fully owned or majorly owned by the host countries.
The Buhari government sanctioned this arrangement despite being aware that there exist domestic airlines, such as Air Peace, that not only has the capacity but equally the experience and international clout to transform into a National Airline. Air Peace had at various times in our nation’s history, come to the aid of the country by airlifting countrymen and women from disaster or war-torn countries like Libya, Ukraine, Sudan, South Africa, etc. Yet, the Buhari government found the airline unworthy of being transformed into a National Airline!
The past government’s action has not only cast the nation’s domestic airlines in bad light before international communities but also made the country vulnerable to foreign espionage as a result of this ill-fated and badly packed Nigeria Air which has turned out to be a complete fraud, while denying the Country huge income that would have accrued from tourism had a local airline been partnered with in the drive to create Nigeria Air.
Even more worrisome is the fact that several notable persons, including industry experts, raised objections on very technical and professional grounds, to the proposed arrangement, But the Buhari government proceeded like a bull in a China shop.
Away from the previous government’s misadventures and waste of taxpayers’ money on a fraudulent partnership with Ethiopian Air, it is germane to stress the importance of Nigeria having a National Carrier being the most populous black Nation on earth, as this will attract Foreign direct investments, improve tourism, diversify our economy away from oil, grow our GDP, and even help our economy with the inflow of much needed foreign currency. It is noteworthy that Ethiopian Air which is currently Africa’s leading airline, recorded a jump of 90% in net profit to 937,000,000 USD during the 2021/2022 financial year, while its total revenue surged by 79% to 5,000,000,000 USD. This is a 90% profit growth despite the worsening global economic crisis, rising fuel costs, and even the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emirate group announced recently in its 2022/2023 financial reports that it made an annual profit of over 3,000,000,000 USD with revenue of over 32,000,000,000 USD which is an 81% increment. In 2022, British Airways generated over 11,000,000,000 Pounds in revenue which was below its 2019 revenue, pre-COVID era. China Eastern Airlines made 8,000,000,000 USD in 2022 while its close rival Air China made 8,362,000,000 USD, a 31.36% decline in its revenue of 2021 which was 12,183,000,000 USD.
Furthermore, the importance of having a National Carrier cannot be overemphasized, however, such a national initiative must be run by Nigerians for the benefit of Nigerians and the development of Nigeria, and not Ethiopia or any other country. Nigerians are one of the most vastly traveled people around the world and as such the reasonable thing to do is to have an Airline that is used and maintained by them. In the quest of Nigerians to travel for business, health, education, tourism, and amongst other numerous reasons, we all go seeking cheaper airlines which are not cheap anyways and end up buying tickets of Ethiopian Air, Turkish Air, Emirates, British Airways, KLM etc at outrageous sums. The only Nigerian commercial airline permitted to travel outside Nigeria is Air Peace which travels to only about 6 to 7 destinations, mainly African Countries. As recently disclosed by the founder of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, the airline was denied permits to fly Nigerians to London and other destinations after several requests to the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. President sir, you will agree with me that something is indeed fundamentally wrong with our country!
From your policies so far, except the hurried removal of fuel subsidy, you have shown the requisite political will to turn around the fortunes of our country, and I do not doubt in my mind that you can revolutionize our aviation sector, thereby making it compete positively with other global aviation giants mentioned herein above. The first step in restructuring our aviation sector is to appoint an aviation technocrat and not a politician as minister of aviation for our republic. Thereafter, call a meeting of critical stakeholders in the sector with a view of creating a roadmap on how the key players can partner with the government in making the sector a job-creating hub, an economic recovery mechanism, and a foreign exchange earning window for the economy. One of the fastest ways to diversify our economy is by urgently floating a national carrier as mentioned earlier above that will be partially owned by the Nigerian people but administered and run by major players like Air Peace that already has the capacity.
Imagine for a moment, Mr. President, the possibility of having a National Carrier with hundred planes in its fleet fully run by Nigeria and Nigerians flying to every corner of the world and the dignifying pride that comes with it for our Nation and its people coupled with numerous economic and social benefits that such an initiative would do to our GDP.
Not only will you create numerous jobs through such an initiative, but also bring in people of all colors and races into our country who will have one reason or the other to pay for visa on arrival at our airports, shop at our airports, sleeps at our hotels, pay taxi drivers, buy clothing materials, eat at restaurants and also patronize Nigerian products. This is an example of how to diversify an economy in the face of the painful reality that the NNPC is barely remitting funds to the Nation’s coffers. Nations like the United Arab Emirates have successfully used this model to develop their country and their economy.
It is in the light of the foregoing sir, I have decided to write you this open letter, to request that you show special interest in the country’s aviation sector which is capable of turning around our fortunes as a nation, helping diversify our economy, create numerous jobs, place us on the pedestrian as the big brother in the continent and make the country a tourism destination considering all our numerous topographical sites, friendly weather, and historical culture and heritage. I also implore you, your excellency, to immediately reverse the dubious partnership initiated with the Ethiopian airline.
Comrade Adeyanju, is a Nigerian lawyer and Convener, Concerned Nigerians.
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