INDICATIONS that the Federal Government is getting set to implement the recommendations of the Justice Obiora Nwazota Judicial Commission which probed the operations of the liquidated Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), is a very positive and welcome development. We hope to see action on this as soon as possible because the looting of our national flag carrier was one of the most outstanding cases of mindless corruption in our history.
The airline which was founded in 1958 once boasted of 32 airworthy aircraft which serviced domestic and international routes, competing with some of the best airlines in Africa and Asia in the late 1970s. But by the early 1980s, gross mismanagement, overstaffing and corruption had set in.
After the KLM technical partners hired to run the airline as a profitable business left in the early 1980s, it was a steady downhill roll, especially after the military took over power in 1983. An airline that lifted 2.1 million passengers in 1985 could not carry more than 10,000 in 2003 with its sole surviving aircraft. The Federal Government liquidated it in 2004.
In 2002, the Justice Nwazota panel was set up to probe the operations of the company. After a year of work, the panel turned in a four-volume report which revealed mindboggling corruption and looting to the tune of over N60 billion. After the Federal Government approved the White Paper on this report and directed the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Police to recover the stolen funds and prosecute the indicted culprits, nothing more was heard about it.
Meanwhile, thousands of staff of the Airways who were thrown out of their jobs could not get paid their salaries and pensions. They languished in hunger and many died. It was only recently that the Federal Government announced the approval of N22.5 billion to offset their estimated 45 billion wages and pension arrears.
One of the reasons that the President Muhammadu Buhari government could not proceed with the floating of a new national flag carrier was the need to settle outstanding issues from the liquidated Nigeria Airways. Certainly, the recovery of whatever remains of its stolen funds and property and the punishment of the offenders are top among the unfinished business.
We call on the government to go ahead with its plan to bring the looters of the rested Nigeria Airways to book. It will help restore confidence in the government’s anti-graft war, especially as this case has nothing to do with politics.
Most of those indicted by the Justice Nwazota panel are still around active in the aviation sector. Their prosecution will strengthen the confidence of future investors in our aviation sector such that when the second national flag carrier is eventually unveiled, stakeholders will be aware that the law is watching.