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The Rights and Freedom Advocates (RIFA) recently received the news of Nigeria air launch by the Federal Government (FG) of Nigeria and has reviewed various stakeholders’ comments and reactions. However, the reaction of a former minister of the Federal Republic caught our attention whereby she was wishing the country evil. Nigeria Airways Ltd also known as Nigeria Airways was a Nigerian airline. The company was founded in 1958 after the dissolution of West African Airways Corporation (WAAC). It held the name WAAC Nigeria until 1971, when it was rebranded to the name it had until it ceased operations in 2003 during Dr Olusegun Obasanjo presidency under whose administration Ms Oby Ezekwesili served as a Minister. The government of Nigeria owned a majority of the airline (51%) until 1961, when it boosted its ownership in the company to 100% and made it the country’s flag carrier. At the time of dissolution, the airline served both domestic and international destinations mainly concentrated in West Africa with network points in Europe, North America and Saudi Arabia. The airline was managed by a number of foreign companies, including British Airways, the Dutch company KLM and South African Airways.

Nigeria Airways had its heyday in the early 1980s, just before the departure of a KLM team that had been hired to make the airline efficient and profitable. At that time, its fleet consisted of about 30 aircraft, but the carrier was two years behind with its accounts to the extent that aircraft were acquired for cash. Plagued by mismanagement, corruption, and overstaffing, at the time of closure the airline had debts totalling US$528,000,000, a poor safety record, and its operative fleet comprised a single aircraft flying domestic routes as well as two leased aircraft operating the international network. Nigeria Airways was succeeded by Virgin Nigeria, and the ground facilities were taken over by Arik Air. The airline, which effectively replaced the defunct Nigeria Airways, was founded in 2004 as a joint venture between Nigerian investors and the Virgin Group. Virgin withdrew from the business during 2008-2010.

Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim in April 2010 announced his taking over of Virgin Nigeria Airways, the nation’s official carrier. Following two name changes, Air Nigeria announced on 6 September 2012 that it had made its staff redundant and ceased operations on 10 September 2012. This national predicament might have necessitated President Muhammadu Buhari promised during his campaign to revive the national carrier. In fulfilling the promise, he has facilitated the launch of the Nigeria Air which is expected to start operation before the end of the year.
The new project; Nigeria Air launched on Monday 16 July 2018 which is expected to gulp $150million to $300million is hoped to make Nigeria Air serve domestic and international markets with expected fleet of 30 aircraft in five years with hubs in Lagos and Abuja. But in her response to Nigeria Air, Obiageli Ezekwezili had this to say in one of her tweets on Nigeria air “Here is why it won’t work, – corruption, overregulation, overstaffing, excessive debt, political interference and poor management that SUNK BILLIONS OF DOLLARS of Nigeria’s money invested in similar Business ventures in the past all too common” Their PLAN for it MUST FAIL to SAVE THE POOR of this country, the COLOSSAL WASTE of LIMITED PUBLIC RESOURCES that should be INVESTED in SECTORS that would help LIFT THE POOR OUT OF POVERTY. FG has NO BUSINESS GOING INTO THE BUSINESS OF AIRLINES. The Evidence is STRONG”.

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The evils of ‘Nigerian factor’ which led to the collapse of the Nigeria Airways might have made former spokesman of the Company (Nigeria Airways) Mr Chris Aligbe once said in 2017 in an interview that “When we were leaving, we saw that those who were in authority, running the affairs of the airline, were determined to further their personal interest rather than the national interest. I think they were doing it to finally bring it down.”

This might be what made Ms Ezekwesili made her erroneous comment that the new airline cannot survive or must fail to save the nation resources. We cannot blame her because during her reign as Minister of Education, the number of ghost workers in federal agencies including those under her Ministry skyrocketed while she seemed helpless. So, without the required skills in checking such gargantuan mismanagement being revealed now she might not have believed it is possible to restore a new Nigeria where normalcy is restored to effectively manage the new Nigeria Air. However, as for the likes of Ms Ezekwesili, the government has reiterated it that government only has 5% stake in the new investment with public and institutional investors taking huge share of the deal.

Globally, the best practice in any investment deal where government does not want to make much financial commitment is to ensure private sector has higher stake which government has done in this case. Thus the new deal which would usher in new inflow of foreign and local investment, generate employment for the professionals and enhance national development which are the desire of patriotic citizens would eventually allay the fear of our former Minister.

In the past, Adam Oshiomole as a labour leader was against oil subsidy removal like some other Nigerians but he was later, when a governor, advocate of oil subsidy removal. This might be due to some inner facts related to him. Likewise, Ms Oby Ezekwezili might be oblivious of some facts or might be condemning all programmes and projects of the current administration due to the administration failure to deem it fit to give her any consideration in its appointments despite perpetual criticism of every patriotic move of the government to save the nation from the mess of which Ms Ezekwesili was part of those that led us into it.

No matter the position of someone, it is height of treason and perfidy that a citizen should pray for failure of government project. So, RIFA admonishes people like Ms Ezekwesili to desist from wishing the nation evil even if have different perspective or opinion with those in authority.

Luqman Soliu
Chairman,
Rights and Freedom Advocates (RIFA)

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