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Reps panel asks FG to suspend Nigeria Air operation, says it’s a fraud

BY Samuel Akpan

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The house of representatives committee on aviation has faulted the process leading to the unveiling of  Nigeria Air.

Speaking at an investigative hearing on Tuesday with Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and representatives of ministry of aviation, Nnaji Nnolim, chairman of the committee, said the unveiling of Nigeria Air was a fraud.

The committee also passed a resolution asking the federal government to suspend the operations of Nigeria Air.

Hadi Sirika, former minister of aviation, unveiled Nigeria Air — the national carrier — about three days before the end of the former president Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

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The committee said it is “totally dissatisfied with the actions” of Sirika flagging off the operations of Nigeria Air “despite a standing court injunction” and without any provision for “sustaining the operations of the airline”.

“A careful review of the process indicates the exercise to be highly opaque, shrouded in secrecy, shoddy and capable of ridiculing and tarnishing the image of Nigeria before the international community,” the committee said.

The committee asked the ministry of aviation and its partners in the Nigeria Air project to “immediately suspend flights operations“

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The committee also called on President Bola Tinubu to urgently constitute a “high level” presidential committee to “undertake a holistic review” of the processes of setting up Nigeria Air.

The lawmakers said, “all individuals, groups or organisations involved in the controversial shenanigan named ‘Nigeria Air take-off’ must be brought to book, prosecuted and sanctioned”.

THE BACK AND FORTH

While speaking before the committee, Emmanuel Meribole, permanent secretary of ministry of aviation, said there was no money spent on the unveiling of Nigeria Air.

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He said the national carrier has yet to be issued an air operator certificate (AOC) but that the processes are ongoing.

Meribole said from 2017 to date, not up to N3.8 billion has been spent on the national carrier project.

However, Rowland Iyayi, a member of the AON, alleged that the Nigeria Air project has gulped about N85.4 billion.

“The Nigerian government has appropriated N85. 2 billion. The point is what exactly are we talking about when you’re talking about Nigeria Air? In one breath, we’re told in the outline business case that it’s a flag carrier. In another breath, we were told it’s a national carrier,” he said.

“There’s a clear distinction between what a national carrier is and a flag carrier and to all intents and purposes, what we have here is a flag carrier.

“Nigerian should not be hoping to believe that we have a national carrier. What we’re saying is, we need accountability to tell us exactly what has been with all the funds appropriated since 2017 and 2016. And if indeed all the shareholders are party to this, how much have they contributed?

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Tayib Odunowo, the managing director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), said the aircraft which was used for the unveiling was granted a landing permit as a chattered flight.

“It was a chartered flight, and it left the next day,” he said.

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