AM EDITORIAL: Nigeria Air Probe: Can The National Assembly Prove Sceptics Wrong?

Based on experience of the Nigerian people over the years as regards probes and enquiries of members of the National Assembly into scandals and controversies, a seated sense of scepticism has been built into most Nigerians to the extent that each time the legislators brace up for a probe, the feeling of now many sceptics is that another fruitless exercise is in the offing.

The House of Representatives has launched a fresh investigation into the status of Nigeria Air, a national carrier, conceived by the last administration. The House, sequel to a motion moved by Tarkighir Dickson, asked its relevant committees on aviation to probe the proposed carrier.

Moving the motion for the probe, Honourable Dickson claimed that the past administration spent billions on the unveiling of the national carrier without any result and that the House must investigate the expenditure to avoid future occurrences. He said if it is not investigated, it may lead to issues with accountability and continue to be a recurring expenditure item in the federal budget.

In response to the motion, the House resolved to mandate the committees on aviation and the committee on aviation technology to invite the Minister of Aviation to brief them about the National Carrier Project and to mandate the committees to invite former Minister Hadi Sirika, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the eight local airlines to give the House a full overview of the project and mandate the committees to carry out a forensic audit of the process of Nigeria Air and report back within four weeks for further legislative action.

The fact that most Nigerians do not believe in National Assembly probes because of how probes have turned out in the past is no news. A probe of the status of Nigeria Air provides another opportunity for Nigeria’s National Assembly through the House of Representatives and Senate Committees, to rebuild what is left of its widely perceived bad image.

Nigeria Air was unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in England on July 18, 2018. The project was suspended two months after it was announced as critics raised concerns over its relevance and sustainability. The proposed airline was expected to gulp $8.8 million in preliminary cost and $300 million as take-off cost. The former Minister of Aviation, later announced an arrangement between the Nigerian government and Ethiopian Airlines to finance the national carrier. According to Sirika, Ethiopian Airlines was to own 49% of the airline, a consortium of local investors was to own 46% and the Nigerian government was to retain 5%.

The arrangement was fiercely opposed by local airline operators, who challenged the government in court, and committees of the National Assembly. Despite the opposition, Minister Sirika and Ethiopia Air “unveiled” the airline amidst unclear approval processing. Sirika’s action generated outrage among Nigerians.

In June 2023, Sirika accused the former Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji of demanding 5% shares of the national carrier from him. Sirika’s comments came less than a week after Nnolim’s committee alleged fraud in the unveilling of Nigeria Air and demanded the prosecution of Sirika and all those associated with the “controversial” unveiling of the airline.

The current Minister of Aviation & Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo in September 2023, condemned the process of establishment of the airline and announced that all ongoing plans for Nigeria Air operations had been temporarily suspended.

Nigeria’s aviation industry is highly desirous of a genuine investigation into the Whos Whats, Whys and Hows surrounding the controversial Nigeria Air, ensuring the eventual prosecution of law offenders and return of stolen public funds involved if any. Achieving this will be helpful to Nigeria as a country, the National Assembly as an organ of government and Nigeria’s aviation industry as a critical sector of the nation’s economy.

Though most Nigerians do not believe in National Assembly probes, the legislature should please prove sceptics wrong for once.

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Albinus Chiedu

Albinus Chiedu is a journalist, aviation media consultant, events management professional, and author. He has practiced journalism since 2000.

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