I’ll recover every kobo, Aviation Minister vows as airlines' debts to FG hit N37bn

*Ministry frustrating take-off of Nigerian Eagle Airline by AMCON – Senate

*Directs AMCON to republish list of debtors 

*We’re not in charge of issuance of AOCs, says Aviation Minister, Sirika

By Dirisu Yakubu & Ibrahim Hassan-Wuyo 

The Senate and Aviation Ministry may be on collision course over the new national carrier, Nigerian Air, being put in place by the ministry on behalf of the Federal Government.

The minister, Hadi Sirika, had announced last week that the new carrier would take-off in April next year, with the Federal Government holding only five per cent equity in the carrier, while Nigerians and an unnamed technical investor would hold 46 and 49 per cent stakes respectively.

However,  the Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, Senator Uba Sani, said the proposal by the Aviation Minister was not in the interest of the aviation sector and the country in general.

The Ministry of Aviation yesterday dismissed the  Senate committee’s claim that it was frustrating  AMCON from floating NG Eagle airline.

However, Senator Sani alleged that the aviation ministry frustrated efforts by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON, to float a new carrier, Nigerian Eagle, in view of the over N300 billion debt owed by Arik Air which it took over to recover liquidate the debt, by instigating the regulator, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, against granting it Air Operator’s Certificate, AOC.

He said the new airline would have dovetailed into the nation’s national carrier to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways, especially after Virgin Nigeria failed four years into its operations.

Recall that at the time AMCON took over Arik Air, there was a proposal to float the Nigeria Eagle to serve a the nation’s national carrier, with a view to liquidating the airline’s debt owed to aircraft lessors and other creditors.

Consequently, Senator Sani declared that the 9th Senate was not happy that certain agencies of government were working at cross-purposes.

He said at an interactive session in Minna , Niger State, that the development was not in the overall interest of the Nigerian economy..

Sani, who was visibly angry at the development, said: “This AMCON intervention in Arik and the frustration the agency is going through because of its proposal to set up NG Eagle as best option to recover its investment in the airlines is not supposed to be.

”I think we are about to lose billions of naira because of ego. The ministry is not being realistic with its proposal of a national carrier and because of that, frustrating the efforts of AMCON on NG Eagle.

“I say it is not realistic after we listened to the explanations of the ministry that the government will own only 5% of the new national carrier, Nigerians will own 46% and yet to be named foreign interest will own 49%.

”So, I think the executive arm of government will work together with the 9th Senate under this committee to ensure that the right things are done to enable AMCON recover this huge outstanding N4.4trillion debt.

“It is also on that note that the Senate, through this committee, is directing the management of AMCON, led by Ahmed Lawan Kuru, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, to again publish the full list of AMCON obligors in daily newspapers so that Nigerians will know those

The Senate committee’s reaction was obviously triggered  by the statement by the Head of Public Communications, AMCON, Jude Nwauzor, who recalled that AMCON’s intervention in Arik Air Limited in February 2017 was supported by the Ministry of Aviation to prevent imminent collapse of another Nigerian airline, especially one that controlled over 60% of the domestic air transportation in the country, among other public concerns.

He said the intervention was necessary at that time for the continued existence of the airline, as AMCON tried to set up NG Eagle as strategic exit from its aviation portfolio.

According to him, Arik owed over N300billion, and that all funds injected into the airlines pre, and post receivership have not yielded any positive repayment result.

He said  that explained  the reason AMCON opted for a strategic exit from its aviation portfolio through NG Eagle, creating an unencumbered and brand-new airline that would be easier to dispose profitably.

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In his welcome address at the interactive session,  AMCON MD/CEO, Ahmed Lawan Kuru, explained:   “AMCON getting involved in the airline is not from a recovery perspective, but from a national duty perspective to ensure that the airline continued to operate, given its strategic importance in the aviation sector at that time.

“After the intervention by AMCON, the airline continued to meet its obligations, particularly that of the Aviation Ministry. The airline has so far remitted over N12 billion as ongoing obligations to the ministry.

”The corporation also do realize that at certain point in time, it must prepare an exit strategy from all its aviation portfolio, and based on advice, decided to set up NG Eagle through the process of certification by Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.

“It was a very vigorous process that took us more than two years. Ultimately, we were able to meet all the requirements, including getting three aircraft branded (they are currently at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, branded as NG Eagle) and ready for operation but we are being frustrated.

“NG Eagle is not a national carrier. We have no business with that. We are only concerned with recovering our money, but first we were told that NG Eagle sounds too much like a national carrier.

”We reminded them that they had issued license to United Nigeria Airlines, and somehow that one does not sound like a national carrier to them.

“We are also aware that based on the NCAA Act, the only condition for NCAA to deny anyone a license to operate an airline should be based on safety reasons, which would be investigated and brought to the attention of the applicant for fair hearing.

”Suddenly we are again being confronted with the challenge through the National Assembly that the license should not be released until AMCON settles Arik debt with NCAA, this we believe is an afterthought.”

Reacting to the allegation, the Director, Press and Public Affairs,  Aviation Ministry, James Odaudu, urged the Senate committee to direct his concerns to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.

He said:  “NCAA is in charge of issuance of AOCs, and also regulates the operations of airlines, not the Ministry.”

Vanguard News Nigeria

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