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Nigeria Air: CSOs Demand Probe, Arrest

The raging controversy over the “unveiling” of the supposed national carrier, Nigeria Air plane, at the twilight of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration should not be swept under the carpet, civil society organisations say.

The unveiling of Nigeria Air was carried out by Hadi Sirika, former Minister of Aviation, on May 26, 2023, at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

The Ex-Minister expressed delight, insisting that the Federal Government had matched its words with action regarding the project.

Before the unveiling, the erstwhile Minister had repeatedly assured Nigerians that the project would kick off, at some point revealing the plan for aircraft which would be used in the fleet.

DAILY POST reported how Sirika promised that Nigeria Air would begin operation within five months following the unveiling of the name and logo of Nigeria Air at the Farnborough International Air Show in July 2018.

However, there was a backlash after the event, especially over the Ethiopian Airlines plane used for the unveiling.

The outgone House of Representatives Committee on Aviation reacted by calling for the suspension of the establishment of Nigeria Air.

It also called for prosecuting those involved in the unveiling of the national carrier by the previous administration, describing the exercise as a fraud.

The committee urged President Bola Tinubu to constitute a high-level Presidential committee to undertake a holistic review of the processes of the Nigeria Air project.

Rep. Nnolim Nnaji, the Chairman of the committee on Aviation, said the committee was dissatisfied with the actions of the former Minister of Aviation in going ahead to flag off the operations of Nigeria Air despite a standing court injunction against such, insisting there was no provision for sustaining the airline’s operations.

He said a careful review of the process indicated the exercise to be highly opaque, shrouded in secrecy, shoddy and capable of ridiculing and tarnishing the image of Nigeria before the international community.

“We want to put on record that the committee and, indeed, the National Assembly had no role in the purported launch of Nigeria Air or anything related thereof.

“While the committee and indeed the parliament is not opposed to Nigeria having a National Carrier, as a matter of fact, having a National Carrier is highly desirable to us as a people and Nigeria, as a nation,” he said.

The committee also directed the Federal Ministry of Aviation and its partners in the Nigeria Air project to suspend flight operations and every other action concerning Nigeria Air.

Joining the call for a thorough probe of the alleged fraud is a Civil Society Organisation, the Center for Human Rights and Accountability Network, CHRAN.

It called on the anti-graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to probe Buhari over his role in the alleged ‘fraudulent’ launch of the Nigeria Air.

It also demanded immediate arrest and investigation of Sirika and all those involved in the alleged scam for them to face the full wrath of the law if found wanting.

In a statement signed by its Chairman, Otuekong Franklyn Isong and the Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Comrade Vincent Aluu, the group said, “The launch, which took place on the last day of the Buhari’s government, was criminal and aimed at defrauding the people.”

A Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Dr Haruna Gololo, also urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to investigate the immediate past Minister of Aviation over unpleasant discoveries in Nigeria Air aircraft’s purported launch.

“We are giving the EFCC two weeks to arrest and investigate the former Minister of Aviation and other key participants in the former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration,” he demanded.

Speaking to DAILY POST in an interview, the President of the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), Olu Omotayo, said the previous administration acted as if there was no law in the country.

Omotayo said an investigation ought to have commenced if it were in an advanced country.

He said what they did was shabbily done, insisting it was dubious.

He said, “The past administration did not handle it in an open way. It was shrouded in so much secrecy, and when you are doing a public project like that, the people are supposed to know.

“But they were just dribbling at the Nigerians, telling Nigerians that they already had some aircraft on the ground at various press conferences they addressed, but with the situation, it turned out to be false.

“If it were in an advanced country, an investigation is supposed to have commenced because I felt that whatever they did was shabbily done, and it was very dubious. There is nothing on the ground to show that they actually invested the amount of money they were talking about.

“So the issue has to be investigated, either by the appropriate agency or the incoming National Assembly. We cannot just leave it lying down because it will encourage public officeholders to repeat the same act in the future. They acted as if there was no law in the country.”

On his part, Onyebuchi Igboke, the Project Manager of Advocacy Partnership for Good Governance and Convener, Office of the Citizens, told DAILY POST, “The whole thing looked more like a scam than a project.”

Igboke called on the ICPC, EFCC, and other relevant security agencies to review and possibly interrogate the entire process and arrest all involved to serve as a deterrent to the law for others.

“The whole thing looked more like a scam than a project. Mind you that in the time past, the association of airline operators raised concerns about Nigeria Air, which they even took to the National Assembly, insisting that the whole idea was ill-conceived.

“They just made a caricature of the national carrier. It is a national shame and a disgraceful thing to have happened to a country like Nigeria. Must Nigeria always be known for a bad reason?

“The ideal thing is for the ICPC, EFCC, and other relevant agencies to review and possibly interrogate the entire process and arrest all involved to serve as a deterrent to the law for others.

“So people are waiting to know if the current government is serious about fighting corruption,” he said.

While speaking on behalf of the Airline Operators during the House committee hearing, Roland Iyayi accused the ministry of conniving with Ethiopian Airlines to the detriment of Nigeria and the local aviation industry.

On his part, Sirika said the federal government had spent less than N3 billion on the Nigeria Air project and admitted that the Ethiopian aircraft that was showcased as the success of the project was chartered.

Sirika further disclosed that much of the money had been spent on consultancies, salaries and administrative costs, noting that the N85 billion being brandished as purportedly spent on Nigeria Air is false and baseless.

“The AOC owned by Ethiopian Airlines is known to Nigeria and the NCAA. They are permitted to come in either with scheduled passengers, chatter or cargo.

“They have to come in under one of the 3. So, they came as chartered. Being chartered does not mean that anybody paid for anything. The government did not pay a dime for that aircraft to come in.”

“Secondly, there was no revenue passenger in the aircraft because that would have been totally against the law and wouldn’t have been allowed. It was their own marketing strategy as equity partners.

“They came to do this unveiling on a special allowance called chartered, and it does not mean that we paid for it. If anybody was to pay for it, it would have been the Ethiopian airline, not the Nigerian government. No penny was paid,” the former Minister said.

Meanwhile, an official in the Aviation ministry who spoke with DAILY POST on Tuesday concerning Nigeria Air said the former Minister had said all that needed to be said when he appeared on national television over the weekend.

He added that there was nothing new about the Nigeria Air.

“I will send you the Minister’s response to everything concerning Nigeria Air. He was live on Arise Tv two days back.

“What else do you want? He has gone, but you have heard all he has spoken. So what could be different between Sunday and now?” He asked.

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