Sirika, Air Nigeria and destination Africa

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One of the instruments of prestige and power projection by nations, is their national carrier. They leverage on it to make their countries destinations, hub and melting pot of cultures and people. In Africa, countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa enjoy international visibility and prestige through their national airlines.

As the giant of Africa, many Nigerians believe that is long overdue for the country to have a national carrier in order to return her lost glory like in the days of Nigerian Airways.

Therefore, the appointment of Senator Hadi Sirika, a pilot and patron of Rubicon Polo Team who has been a key player in the aviation industry for decades to manage the Aviation ministry, gave many Nigerians hope.

In addition to making Nigerian aviation industry align with international best practices, one of the determined efforts of the Minister of Aviation has been to ensure that Nigerian has a national carrier. Since 2015, the minister has remained consistent on the national carrier project.

In an interview with journalists in 2017, the minister said: “ I think in the next couple of months, two months maximum, we should be able to have our outline business case of this transaction and then the full business case will follow almost immediately after because we are doing it simultaneously and after that we begin the process to establish the airline. So I will say that we are very close to having the national carrier established. Certainly, it will be within the first tenure of this administration.”

Even though, he didn’t meet the target of getting the national carrier in the sky, in the first term of President Buhari’s administration , he has not given up on the dream.

Recently, the establishment of national carrier popped up in the media again when the minister held a press conference, where he revealed that the country’s national airline is well on its way to being launched.

The minister said: “Nigeria Air will launch with a shuttle service between Abuja and Lagos, other domestic destinations will follow thereafter. The National Carrier will be launched with three Boeing 737-800 in a configuration very suitable for the Nigerian market.

Sirika further disclosed that “The Request for Proposal (l) under the PPP Act, governed by ICRC, is completed. After a careful, detailed and ICRC governed selection process, Ethiopian Airlines Consortium has been selected as preferred bidder, offering an owner consortium of three Nigerian investors MRS, SAHCO and the Nigerian Sovereign Fund (46%), Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) owning 5% and ET 49%.

“The consortium has been subject to a due diligence process, after which the contract will be negotiated between the consortium and the FGN, leading to a Full Business Case, which will be expected to be approved by Federal Executive Council. We expect this process to take 6-8 weeks.

“An interim Executive Team of highly skilled Aviation Experts has been working since Feb 2022 to set up all the necessary regulatory and industry requirements to launch the National Carrier. All Executives have been approved by NCAA, the Air Transport License has been issued by NCAA, Nigeria Air (after having identified the first three aircraft) will now finalize all necessary Operation Manuals and then go through the inspection and approval process of NCAA.”

The recent effort at establishing national carrier has pitched local carriers against the Federal Government in a legal tussle. Reports in the media indicate that the Managing Director, Top Brazz Aviation, one of the local carriers listed on the court paper, Mr Roland Iyayi, said he believes the domestic carriers have a strong case the court will decide upon.

He said: “We are absolutely prepared to pursue this. Based on what we presented to the court, we believe we have a very strong case. On the basis of the documents that we have presented, we believe we have a very strong case.”

Iyayi further explained, “Domestic airlines are not averse to having a national carrier. What we are saying is that the structure and the design that is being put together by the Honourable Minister of Aviation is a bit of an issue which we believe is not going to help the Nigerian state in a long term.

“We have also come to find out that there are undue privileges that are going to be given to this new carrier which domestic airlines are not enjoying. For instance, the government is proposing a 15-year tax moratorium. This is not a national carrier transparency and undue privileges that will ultimately result in a distorted market.  At the end of the day, we will decimate the domestic market to the detriment of the consumers.  In the absence of being unable to sit around a table to negotiate, we are left with no other choice but to go to court before it becomes too late.”

Whatever the issues and perhaps lacuna discovered by domestic aviation operators and stakeholders in the process of implementing  this major national project; what is clear is the determination of the Minister of Aviation at making sure Nigeria has a national carrier in the life of President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

When Nigeria’s National Carrier comes on stream it will be well positioned to address one of the major challenges of air travel on the African continent which is the connectivity of destinations.

In   line with Nigeria foreign policy which is Africa as centrepeice of her diplomacy and the renewed effort of  economic  diplomacy particularly ECOWAS  sub region ,   It is important to drew the attention of the minister to align the national carrier with Nigerian foreign policy in making the national carrier most dominant on the continent before spreading out.

I am very optimistic that the establishment of Air Nigeria will be a legacy of President Muhammadu Buhari administration. With it, the administration would have succeeded in activating and bringing to life one of the instruments of national power and power projection which will better position Nigeria as the heart of Africa and true giant  of Africa.

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