Revisiting the Air Nigeria project

[FILE PHOTO] Nigeria’s Aviation minister Hadi Sirika. PHOTO: Adrian DENNIS / AFP

Sir: When on July 18, 2018 Hadi Sirika, the Minister of State for Aviation, told a large audience, including aviation experts during a diplomatic trip to the United Kingdom of Nigeria preparedness to float Nigeria Air, many were ecstatic about the project. He said, the project was aimed at resurrecting the defunct Nigeria Airways. The project was said to bring about innovation in the Aviation sector of the country. It therefore, came as a quaking bombshell, when it was announced that the proposed project has been put on hold.

One continues to wonder if the motive behind the project was well thought-out and planned, as the sudden suspension clearly portrays a wrong approach and perhaps wasteful decision.  Or how do you explain that a project supposedly well planned and driven actively was put on hold due to alleged investors’ apathy? It would be recalled that on July 18, 2018 at the Farnborough international Airshow in the UK, the Nigerian minister of state for aviation announced that the erstwhile Nigeria Airways will be making a return to the skies as Nigeria Air.

The minister said the Nigerian government will inject 8.8 million dollars into Nigeria Air as viability gap funding. He said the private sector investors will bring some 300 million dollars as start-up capital.  Obviously, it was shocking when the public got to know that Nigerian Air may not fly for now. Perhaps the project would have continued if only communication was efficient or if knowledgeable Nigerians had been involved rather than the snippets dropped here and there by those in charge. Even the views of the Nigerian air operators were waved off as the experts foresaw loopholes in floating a National airline from scratch, when there were still many deficits on the act. One of the notable Nigerians who spoke against the investment was Oby Ezekwesili, the former minister of Education, who faulted the plan and financial implication of Nigerian Air.

The decay of Nigeria Airways commenced in 2003, when planes became flying coffins due to substandard purchase of Aircraft. The Aviation industry has witnessed several losses of lives and property worth billions. Transportation by air became a risk to the masses, everything that could go wrong with the aviation sector did go wrong from the disengagement and payoff of the former staff still pending to the aborted or better still pending project of Nigeria Air. The project will continually be hollow and a mere drain pipe on the public fund at the expense of the Nigerian tax payer as long as the problem in the Air sector is not checked.

Having a newly birthed Nigeria Air is a good and welcome development. However, it would have to go beyond Sirika’s optimism and nice words to become an achievable dream.  There must be a renewed commitment from the government and private sector players to see Nigeria Air work out, as Nigeria is a sleeping giant that has been stirred from sleep.

The aviation sector is one of the sectors in the country’s economy that can shake up this giant to consciousness if well harnessed and utilised. Therefore, investors with sincere motives should be bought into plan. Also, there should be an agreed plan of such intended and magnificent project just as the place of private public partnership remains valid for this kind of idea.

Furthermore, Air Nigeria should go beyond some set of political individuals. We have experts who are Nigerians and will be willing to be part of the think-thank on the initiative and this should be explored totally. Nevertheless, there should be political will to have Air Nigeria rather than vote appeal intention. A laudable project such as Air Nigeria is strategic to the economic growth of the nation and aviation sector. Government should endeavour to resuscitate it. It must not be allowed to die.

Grace Omowunmi Semudara, an intern with Economic Confidential .

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