By Dele Sobowale
“There are no desperate situations; only desperate men.” — Joseph Goebbels, 1897-1945.
Mr Hadi Sirika, ex-Minister of Aviation, in Buhari’s government, on Friday, May 26, 2023, demonstrated to the entire world why his appointment was a blunder and why the government he served was a colossal failure.
In a desperate bid to leave a legacy of achievement, which had eluded him, in eight years in office, launched an airline he called Nigeria Air. The absurdity of the event could not escape anybody who has not lost his senses for several reasons. Only a few will be touched upon here – for posterity.
The re-launching of a national carrier by the President, which ordinarily should be nationally applauded, and performed with all the fanfare it deserves, and to which important officials should have been invited was largely ignored by even Sirika’s more serious colleagues.
Even the village idiot avoids a trailer. To begin with, the last Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting was held on Wednesday, 24 February 2023. Valedictory addresses were delivered; and most returned to their offices to pack their belongings. The last thing the sensible ones among them wanted was to be caught attending an event which was clearly contravened a court order. The Buhari government has affirmed its commitment to the rule of law through a press release issued by Garba Shehu, its former spokesman, during the cash scarcity episode. And, here was a Minister, with two days ago, openly defying court order; and doing it in the most questionable way possible.
Just about everything about the launching is objectionable; and from usually reliable sources, the desperation we can all see clearly, is driven by selfish personal interest and commitments made to some individuals slated to be awarded contracts for certain aspects of the operations – aviation fuel supply, transport services, tickets and boarding passes, insurance etc. Billions ride on these. Sirika was not ready to leave all these for a successor to determine.
The result has now exposed a lot that had been kept hidden in the agenda. More than most Nigerians, I have been following the matter of Nigeria Air from its beginning. I was totally in support of it despite our failure with Nigerian Airways. I was in the USA when the Americans were trying to go to the moon. They failed several times; but, landed there in 1969. For me, liquidation of Nigerian Airways should not debar us from trying again to have a national carrier – like Ethiopia and Turkey. So, I was a cheerleader for Mr. Sirika and battled those opposing Nigeria Air. I became sceptical when his approach became clear. And, as he took one false step after another, it became obvious that the ex-Minister was not acting in the national interest. The war was on. I warned him, on two occasions on this page, that there would be no Nigeria Air operating in Nigeria until he left office. I underestimated how far a desperate Minister can go to try and achieve his ambition. But, he will soon find out how wrong he was.
Why one plane instead of three?
Sirika, violating long-standing regulation, which he knows very well, started with one aircraft instead of three. He is frantically searching for two more aircrafts to bring in even when his authority to allow the planes by-pass regulations terminates on mid-night May 28, 2023. Failure to get the two into Nigeria before that date might mean that they might be kept out for months, if not years. Nigeria Air, if allowed to operate, might very well become the only airline with only one aircraft – contrary to regulations. Nobody needs rocket science or Artificial Intelligence science intelligence to realise that the aircraft will soon be grounded while litigation takes its course.
Regular readers of this column would recall the rough treatment given to Mr. Arumeni-Ikhide, Chairman of Arik, recently, by the Assets Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON, when the founder of the airline was locked out of the Board Room. Information available to me from sources indicates that confiscating Arik airlines’ planes was seriously considered in the furious search for aircrafts. That was probably why Mr. Arumeni-Ikhide had to be locked out. The outcry and court action by the Chairman probably deprived the collaborators of the planes needed to make the scheme appear legitimate and to fool the public.
So, with May 26 as the last day he could possibly act, he got Ethiopian Airline to release one plane to Nigeria Air. To the supporters of a viable Nigeria Air, this was not what was expected. The B737-800 exhibited, again from information available, was still flying as part of the Ethiopian Airline fleet until May 22, 2023, before it was hurriedly repainted for launching in Nigeria on May 26 – four days after. The arrival of the aircraft in Nigeria was in violation of several aviation regulations which Sirika is aware of. But, in his pathetic drive to leave a legacy, he had actually left a major problem calling for probes.
Caveat emptor: Customers beware.
“It is the buyers fault if he fails to ask if the horse is blind.” — Anonymous
In the case of an airline, it is not only customers of the airline who have a stake on ensuring that the planes have been properly registered and insured. Every household over which they would fly is also at risk. Many of us old enough to remember should recollect two incidents which make many of us stakeholders in this project.
When a DANA Airline plane, crashed into buildings at Ikeja, while coming to land, about ten years ago, passengers and non-passengers perished. Fortunately, DANA was adequately insured; the losses were not in vain. A SOSOLISO airline plane crashed, years before DANA. All attempts, including my personal intervention, to get compensation for victims ended in failure. The airline had failed to renew its insurance. Nobody got a kobo in compensation.
As things stand, the status of Nigeria Air is shrouded in mystery. Ownership structure is unknown; and it is also not certain if the airline has fulfilled all the conditions to operate as a commercial airline in Nigeria. That means that we might all be at risk each time the plane(s) get off the ground. Sirika had used his position to rush through the processes for airline and aircrafts’ registration such that it might turn out that appropriate registration was not done. Most insurance companies will reject claims for that reason alone.
Like most frequent travellers by air in Nigeria, I know the hardships we endure with delayed and cancelled flights with airlines operating many planes. As a rule, the fewer planes the airline operates, the more frequent and longer the delays and cancellations. In the past, when payment was at the airport and by cash, it was easier to obtain refund immediately there is cancellation. But, with e-booking and e-payment, money is not refundable immediately – if at all. Most airlines insist on allowing you to use the credit for another flight in the same direction. And, there’s expiry date on the usage. Anyone booking Nigeria Air, until all the mess created by Sirika is sorted out must be a gambler of the worst sort. I would not board the plane(s) if offered the flight for free.
Reading all the promises made at the launching by Sirika, it was difficult not to regard the entire programme as a comedy show; and a bad one too.
STOP PRESS. Just before this article went to the Editor, it was reported that the plane has vanished; and might return to Ethiopian Airlines.