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THE INSIDER: Keyamo under pressure from fellow Buhari’s ex-ministers over aviation sector probe

THE INSIDER: Keyamo under pressure from fellow Buhari’s ex-ministers over aviation sector probe
February 07
10:30 2024

When Festus Keyamo, minister of aviation and aerospace development, announced that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had started investigating the controversial Nigeria Air deal, many feathers were expectedly ruffled.

“First of all, I have said it before and I will still say it. It was not a deal that was good for Nigeria in the long run,” the minister had told Channels TV.

“The whole composition and totality of that deal was merely Ethiopian Air flying the Nigerian flag. It was not a national carrier. Two things. A flag carrier is different from a national carrier.

“So while we were being told that a national carrier was coming, it was not a national carrier, it was a foreign airline trying to fly the Nigerian flag.

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“The EFCC is investigating that deal. There is a criminal investigation going on. I have called for the report.”

According to a minister in the Muhammadu Buhari administration who declined to be named for confidential reasons, some fellow former ministers subsequently convened a virtual meeting and asked that Keyamo be called to order.

The insider told TheCable: “We felt that Keyamo was part of the Muhammadu Buhari administration and should, for whatever it is worth, not be seen to be probing a former colleague. All the former ministers have a WhatsApp, which is usually for social events and catching up, so we mandated one of us to call out Keyamo.”

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Keyamo, a senior lawyer, is the only surviving minister from the Buhari era.

The insider said a fellow former minister then posted in the WhatsApp group: “Keyamo, you owe us an explanation for this interview you granted to Channels TV.”

“Luckily for him,” the insider further told TheCable, “he didn’t respond… we were prepared to confront him. He should not be doing this to a former colleague.”

The Nigeria Air deal was sealed by Hadi Sirika, Keyamo’s predecessor, on behalf of the Nigerian government.

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On May 26, 2023, a plane purportedly belonging to Nigeria Air, the proposed national carrier, landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

Two days prior, Sirika had said that an aircraft belonging to Nigeria Air would arrive in the country ahead of the commencement of operations.

However, on August 31, 2023, Keyamo announced the suspension of Nigeria Air.

‘TIP OF THE ICEBERG’

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Given recent events, there are indications that the Nigeria Air project is just one of many being probed by the anti-graft commission.

On Monday, the commission quizzed Sirika’s brother over an alleged payment of N8 billion to his account.

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Abubakar Ahmad Sirika allegedly got a number of contracts from the aviation ministry while his brother was minister.

As reported by The Nation, about N3.2 billion was traced to Engirios Nigeria Limited, owned by Abubakar, who is said to be a Level-16 officer in the ministry of water resources.

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He is listed as the company’s managing director and CEO, according to the report, which also said he is the sole signatory to the two accounts linked to the firm with two banks.

The four contracts the ex-minister awarded to his brother, as reported, are: construction of the terminal building at Katsina airport for N1,345,586,500.00); fire truck maintenance and refurbishment centre at Katsina airport  for N3, 811,497,685.00); procurement and installation of elevators, air conditioners and power generator house in Aviation House, Abuja for N615,195,275.000); and procurement of Magnus Aircraft and simulator for Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, for N2, 296,897, 404.00.

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KEYAMO REJIGS AVIATION AGENCIES

A week to the end of Buhari’s tenure in May 2023, Sirika fired and replaced 33 directors in the aviation agencies and appointed new chief executives.

Insiders told TheCable that the move was in expectation that he would be retained as minister by incoming President Bola Tinubu.

“The calculation from our side is that Tinubu would naturally ask Buhari to nominate the minister, or one of the ministers, from Katsina, his home state,” another insider said.

“He did. Just before inauguration, he had a meeting with Buhari and asked for his candidate. To our surprise, Buhari said Tinubu should feel free to nominate anybody.”

This was a first blow to Sirika, the insider said, as he did not expect that Buhari would not make a case for him.

They had been associates for decades and Sirika was the only senator elected on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Buhari’s party, in 2011.

TheCable understands that when Keyamo assumed office, Sirika’s last-minute appointees refused to cooperate with him.

“They began to hide files from Keyamo, so there were many things going on that he did not have access to. Their loyalty was to Sirika,” a presidency official told TheCable while explaining why Tinubu decided to fire the 33 directors and appoint new chiefs for the agencies.

“That was how several things started coming out, including the N8 billion contract awards. If Sirika had been retained as minister, as he had hoped, all these things would have remained buried.”

TheCable understands that many self-funding proposals that were submitted to Sirika which he did not approve are now receiving attention from Keyamo.

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