PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s interest in establishing a new aviation national carrier became evident when, early in August 2015, he directed visiting top ministry of aviation officials led by the Permanent Secretary, Hajiya Binta Bello, to take steps towards actualising the project which was strongly recommended by the Ahmed Joda transition committee.
Proponents of a new national carrier play up the benefits, which
include national pride and the opportunities it will afford Nigeria to
enjoy the fuller benefits of the Bilateral Aviation Services Agreements
Nigeria has made several attempts at owning national carriers but
came out with our fingers burnt. The first was the ugly experiences of
operating the defunct Nigerian Airways between 1958 and 2005. This
exposed the crass inability of government employees to run businesses,
especially airlines. The federal government sank billions of dollars in
acquiring planes of all types. At a point, the Nigerian Airways could
boast of dozens of aircraft plying most important routes at home and
internationally but by 2005 the Airways had to be liquidated.
A second attempt involved a government partnership with Virgin
Atlantic owned by British billionaire, Richard Branson. The Virgin
Nigeria that resulted from that effort soon collapsed. There were other
attempts to float national carriers known variously as “Air Nigeria” and
“Nigerian Global”. The nation only spent huge resources and yet nothing
came of the effort.
Beyond national pride and providing a lucrative avenue to provide
jobs and political patronage to highly connected individuals, what grand
national agenda does Nigeria truly intend to achieve? To get the
credible answer to this question the federal government must consult not
just professionals and civil servants in the sector. The airline owners
should also be brought on board so that if the national carrier is
eventually floated, the interests of all parties will be protected for
the overall good of the nation.
We are calling for a pause to ponder on this policy move. It looks
very much like another white elephant project. Nigeria is not
financially in shape to cough out the $5 billion, which experts believe,
is the least amount it will take to float a new national carrier.
Besides, the defunct Nigerian Airways owed heavily to international
creditors, who are waiting to collect their money as soon as government
goes into another aviation venture.
We call on the Federal Government to focus more energy on ensuring
that existing airlines operate in a more conducive environment devoid of
multiple taxation, expensive aviation fuel and the lot. We should
rather empower our indigenous airlines to grow to a point where we can
comfortably promote the viable ones among them to emerge as national