By Ismail Adebanjo
In his desperation to remove shame of failure and convince his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, that he succeeded, Minister of Aviation, Alhaji Hadi Sirika, made a last minute deal with Ethiopian Airlines, to repaint two of its aeroplanes for a STATIC DISPLAY in Nigeria on Friday May 26.
According to our findings, this was to justify his promise to deliver Nigeria Air before May 29.
To achieve the desperate plot, Sirika had to enter into a quick agreement with his associates in Ethiopia Airlines to rent two of the aircraft on their inventory to be used to convince Nigerians that he delivered.
According to our investigations, the two aircrafts were flown to Turkey were they were repianted and furnished in Nigeria’s colours before they were sneaked into Nigeria for a static display which would hold at 4pm on May 26. They are due back in Addis Ababa after the static display.
Already, Sirika’s office had sent out invitations to government officials, emirs and stakeholders to grace the static display, which would hold in Abuja.
Investigations into Sirika’s desperation to close the deal which had raised many questions, show that the Minister had wanted to armtwist the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to wave all registration processes and grant the airline a licence to operate in Nigeria despite not meeting regulatory requirements.
However, the Authority, it was gathered, insisted on strict observation of the mandatory registration processes.
According to NCAA regulations, an applicant for an Airlines Operators Certificate (AOC) must show proof of ownership of at least three aircraft, which must also be registered in Nigeria.
The NCAA insistence on strict observation of the process, we gathered, irked Sirika because his rented aircraft do not meet the requirement.
According to regulatory sources, the two rented aircraft are registered in Ethiopia and not in Nigeria as required by law.
However, Sirika was said to have begged to be allowed to fly them into Nigeria for DEMONSTRATION FLIGHT before President Buhari and his incoming successor in order to clear the shame of failing to deliver.
Though NCAA turned down the request, Sirika deviced a new terminology unknown in the industry to insist that the aircraft would be used for STATIC DISPLAY only.
According to our sources, one other hurdle facing Sirika’s Nigeria Air is that it is just at the second stage of its license acquisition process, which is manual submission.
Our source said Sirika wanted the processes waived in order to remove shame of failure on him and the government.
It was further gathered that insistence by NCAA on due process forced Sirika to attempt the sack of the NCAA Director General. However, his move failed because of new regulations in the NCAA Act, which legally mandated an action by the Senate and board of the agency before the DG could be sacked.
We further learnt that his desperation to force the hands of NCAA on the project got the ire of global aviation regulatory body, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), which warned Nigeria of dire consequences should the aviation regulation procedures be waived in favour of Nigeria Air.
Specifically. ICAO was said to have told Nigeria that it would be catastrophic for it to breach regulations for Sirika.
However, the leadership of other regulatory agencies, which were not protected by law like the NCAA, were not so lucky as Sirika fired them for insisting that due process must be observed in the creation of Nigeria Air.
Sirika’s desperation has also raised questions about the actual owners of Nigeria Air. While the minister had said that Ethiopian owns 51 percent equity of the airline, industry experts are asking for full disclosure as to the value of the 51% equity.
They also want to know the share capital of the airline and have full disclosure on what other equity stakeholders contributed to it.
According to an industry operator “the minister’s desperation clearly points to something shadowy. He should have put a lot things to rest by telling Nigerians who the equity stakeholders are and the monetsry value of their shareholding in the airline.
“He said that Nigeria owns only 5%. That means we are a minority shareholder. So, why are the majority shareholders not fighting for their investment to see the light of day? Or, did they just throw away the value of 51% equity shareholding? These are questions that Sirika has refused to ask which has made many Nigerians to believe, that the desperation he has shown so far, including disobeying valid court orders, are indications that this project may be his own personal slice of the cake”.
Another aviation expert stated that Sirika may be moving fast to clean the shame that comes with failure in fraudulent schemes.
According to him, “the man is simply running about in a desperate show of shame and to deceitfully hoodwink President Buhari and make him feel that Nigeria Air has been achieved. It would also amount to deceiving the incoming government to believe that Nigeria Air was actually handed over to it. This is nothing else but fraud.
“The minister has been on this project for God-knows-how-long. He has waisted several billions on it without result. Now, he is in desperate chase for validation on a project that is not even on the table. Nothing else could be more fraudulent and I believe the government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu understands the game they bare up to”.
Ismail Adebanjo is Nigerian writer and social critic