January 16, 2023

Nigeria Air: Parties hope on the court, as battle rages

Nigeria Air

•FG wants case transferred to Abuja

Domestic airlines to file counter affidavit challenging motion

•Current administration struggles to float national carrier

By Prince Okafor 

There seems to be no hope in sight for the proposed national carrier – Nigeria Air, by the current administration despite the availability of start-up investment funds of over $250 million.

This is coming against the backdrop of the court proceedings resuming today (January 16) in Lagos where the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) is challenging the airline’s establishment, citing anti-competitive reasons.

Nigeria Air has a start-up budget of $250 million with the Federal Government expected to contribute only $12.5 million in line with its 5 percent share in the proposed new national carrier.

It would be recalled that the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2015 promised to float a new national carrier to replace the defunct Nigeria Airways, which was grounded in 2004 over liquidity crisis.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had proposed the commencement of the national carrier last December, stressing that no rational court in the country would stop the floating of the national carrier.

Following the development, the Nigerian Federal High Court in Lagos on November 24, 2022, ordered all parties to maintain the status quo pending the case’s determination after it had already granted the AON an interim injunction preventing the government from selling shares in Nigeria Air to Ethiopian Airlines.

In response to the judgement, Sirika and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, filed a Motion of Notice with backing affidavits praying the Federal High Court in Lagos to transfer the suit filed against them on the suspended national carrier to the Federal High Court in Abuja citing various reasons.

But an authoritative source from the AON told Vanguard Aviation World that they are set to file a counter affidavit challenging the motion to transfer the case out of Lagos.

According to a motion filed January 13, 2023, with suit no: FHC/L/CS/2159/22/283, it prayed the court for an Order transferring the suit to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja judicial division for determination, being the judicial division where all the defendants reside and carry on substantial part of their business.

In an affidavit in support of the motion on notice, Counsel to the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants, Des-Bordes Felicia, stated: “After carefully studying the originating process and other processes filed by the plaintiffs, the cause of action alleged by the plaintiffs occurred in the Federal Capital Territory outside the judicial division where this suit is instituted.

“That the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants who are not residents within the judicial division of this honourable court will be subjected to serious hardship in the event this suit proceeds to hearing and prosecuted within the judicial division of this honourable court wherein this suit is commenced.

“The engagement of counsel to handle the instant case in the judicial division of this honourable court which is outside all the defendants’ place of residence will attract huge amount of expenses on the part of the Defendants and that may likely affect the Defendants’ proficiencies to properly prosecute the suit to a logical and expeditious conclusion, and by extension, affects the course of fair hearing in the course of the trial.

“As a matter of facts, the Plaintiffs know that the Defendants reside in the Federal Capital Territory. Abuja and equally carry on substantial part of their businesses which is outside the judicial division of this Honourable Court but still went ahead to commence this suit herein.”

Domestic airlines to file counter affidavit challenging motion 

Meanwhile, the AON has kicked against the transfer of the case from Lagos to the Federal High Court in Abuja.

An authoritative source from the AON stated that the body seeks to challenge the motion.

He noted that the airline body and other concerned parties will oppose the planned transfer of the case to Abuja from Lagos.

He said: “A transfer may equally affect fair hearing and may lead to the manipulation of the case.

 “Definitely, we will oppose the transfer of the case to Abuja. All the parties involved in this case are based in Lagos and AON’s office is also in Lagos.”

However, the Nigeria Air has applied for AON membership to align with the aviation sector.

Vanguard Aviation World gathered that the carrier also faces potential political upheaval depending on who wins the general elections  on February 25, 2023. President Buhari is ineligible to run, being term-limited.