By Henry Umoru
ABUJA — THE N300 billion Aviation Intervention Fund provided by the Federal Government for operators in the industry was diverted by many operators, it was revealed yesterday.
Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, told the Senator Hope Uzodinma-led hearing that she was totally disgusted by what she saw when she assumed office, saying she was thus motivated to seek a review of the aviation fund.
“The intervention fund was in existence before I came but if it was working right. I couldn’t have gone to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to ask for a review.
“I met the fund but for me to accomplish my mission, I knew that the fund was not helping the industry and, therefore, I went to CBN to ask for a review. The aviation sector is about to die except we do something urgently and that is why we developed a template to rescue the industry.”
NCAA refuses to confirm Dana airworthiness
In his remarks, Director General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Mr. Harold Demuren, said NCAA had submitted all documents relating to the crash of the Dana aircraft to the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB, as required. He, however, refused to confirm whether the ill-fated Dana airplane was air worthy before it took off for its last flight from Abuja to Lagos on June 3. According to him, the investigations were in the hands of the AIB which he claimed is an independent body.
Asked what the NCAA does with accident reports, the D-G who explained that officials of the agency learn from such reports to prevent future occurrences, stressed that the Sosoliso accident report revealed the aging infrastructure at the Port Harcourt airport.
According to Demuren, the Port Harcourt airport was closed for complete rehabilitation of facilities following the Sosoliso report.
Asked whether the agency had sanctioned any erring airline, he said many airlines which ran foul of regulations had been sanctioned.
On whether the agency conducted air worthy tests on the ill-fated Dana airliner, the DG told the committee that though tests were conducted on all aircraft, but he would not talk specifically on the crashed Dana plane until after the AIB had concluded its investigations.
Tasked whether he was embarrassed by the double air crashes that have recently tainted his stewardship of the NCAA, he said: “I stand here before you devastated. It should have been six years by October that the country was free of big aircraft accidents. Nigeria became a case study for other African countries and the world but under one night the whole thing busted. There were two accidents. I cannot walk away. I cannot jump ship. When the going was good and Nigeria was being celebrated I was there. I cannot now jump ship.”
A mild drama occurred at the hearing when a memorandum submitted by one of the former directors of Air Nigeria, Mr. John Nnorom, was brought up. In it, Nnorom who has been dismissed from the services of the airline accused the chairman of Air Nigeria, Ibrahim of diverting the aviation intervention fund.
The former staff of Air Nigeria further alleged that N35 billion sourced from the fund meant for refinancing existing loans was accessed by Air Nigeria and diverted to acquisition of banks in Sao Tome and Principe as well as property in Dubai. When these allegations were raised, drama unfolded as Ibrahim sought to intervene but he was stopped as he was simply told that it was not yet time for him to talk.
But the insistence of the business mogul to have his way forced the committee to instruct the Sergeant -At -Arm to call him to order.
Ibrahim denies diverting N35bn aviation fund
When he finally got the opportunity to speak, Ibrahim told the hearing that he met a total debt of $275 million, when he assumed the ownership of Air Nigeria and refuted the claim of diverting N35 billion of the aviation fund, adding that the loan facility obtained from the Bank of Industry was used to offset debts he met on ground, saying he never enjoyed any grants from the fund.
He said: “We never had any money released to us in the name of intervention fund,’’ adding that he upgraded the standard of the airline from two aircraft that he met on ground to its present 15.
The Air Nigeria owner described Nnorom’s allegations as baseless, saying: ‘’For him to come to this floor without telling the panel that he is currently facing criminal charges of embezzling $300,000 from Air Nigeria as one of its former director is funny.”
Meanwhile, the Committee has summoned the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and the management of United Bank of Nigeria, UBA, to appear before it today.