President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been charged to prosecute the former minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika who served under the immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari for scamming Nigeria of N139.3bn using Ethiopian Airlines as Nigeria Air.
Recall Hadi Sirika, on Friday, May 26, 2023, tweeted celebrating the landing of Nigeria Air.
He was, however, accused to have repainted an 11-year-old Ethiopian Airlines aircraft and presented it as Nigeria Air, the country’s national carrier.
The Nigeria Air is the nation’s proposed national carrier which was unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in England on July 18, 2018.
The project was suspended two months after it was announced after critics raised concerns over its relevance and sustainability. The airline was expected to gulp $8.8 million as preliminary cost and $300 (N139.3bn) million as takeoff cost.
On Tuesday, June 6, 2023, Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, declared the entire affair surrounding Nigeria Air a scam after key stakeholders involved in the deal, including Ethiopian Airlines, denied any knowledge of the launch.
Dayo Olumide, the acting Managing Director of Nigeria Air, while appearing before the Senate Committee on Aviation on Tuesday, said the plane was chartered from Ethiopian Airlines to launch the country’s official airline.
The Nigeria Air MD added that his mandate is to secure an operating licence for the airline that is still in its early stages. He said;
“It is a pleasure to be here and to finally make our position known where I can clarify all the misconceptions regarding Nigeria Air as it pertains to the technical aspects of it.
“As you know this airline was launched with the logo in 2018. Several things have transpired since then that has nothing to do with me.
“I was invited last February, my mandate is to secure an air operating certificate for the airline not necessarily to operate the airline but to secure a licence to fly. And that is entirely my responsibility.”
Senator Olujimi, Chairman of the Committee on Aviation, expressed her thoughts on the situation adding that the arrangement of the Nigeria Air was shrouded in suspicion.
Olumide, while responding to Olujimi’s question said the aircraft, causing the conversation did not require a licence, as it was hired.
He said, “I will like to address your question first before I go on. The aircraft that came in and left was a legitimate charter flight. Anyone of us here if we have a destination wedding in Senegal, we can charter an aircraft.
“You don’t need to have a licence to do that, you just charter an aircraft, an aircraft you paid for it, it will be brought here, take your passengers, and off you go.
“And that is what we did. But in this case, it was to unveil. Ever since 2018, all you have ever seen about Nigeria Aircraft were pictures, and drawings, not the real aircraft, and we thought it was time to show what the real aircraft will look like and also to let shareholders know.
“You see we have institutional investors, they are not in aviation, but they are putting their money for 10 or 15 years and to exit may be at the premium. So they need to see what the actual aircraft will look like.
“So we brought it in here to show them what the aircraft will look like. Then the social media dimension came into it.
“It is an Ethiopian-registered one. Why is it Ethiopian-registered? To operate aircraft in Nigeria, they must be Nigerian registered; on 5th November. That aircraft was not on 5th November registered because it was a chartered flight and it came in with just a few day’s clearance and off it went.
“For us to get that licence which is my mandate, we must among other things have three aircraft before the NCAA will give us a licence and those three aircraft must be Nigerian-registered aircraft.”
“There are five steps that one goes through to have a licence. We have gone from the first one to the second one but the problem is that when you change what we call post holders.
“Post holder is a technical term for director of maintenance, or chief pilot, when you change them and replace them completely, you have to go back to phase one to interview them to be compliant to the authority, to the civil authority. But haven gone back to phase one doesn’t mean you have done anything thing wrong. That is a correct and normal process.
“So when this aircraft came on a chartered flight, everybody said we have launched Nigeria Air. “There are learned people in the aviation industry who could have countered that when social media came out, they chose not to.”
Meanwhile, Nigerians while reacting to the controversial issue surrounding the Nigeria Air, asked the president to arrest the former Minister for proper prosecution.
Alle Zamani said; “So as the giant of Africa, Nigeria can’t purchase just one Aircraft, they had to borrow with billions and deceived the Nigerians they felt they could deceive? My goodness.”
Adewale Johnson wrote said; “Aviation minister should be arrested with handcuff.”
Praise George said; “If this were China, Singapore or Indonesia, the aviation minister would already be in jail.”
Sammel said; “Wait why does Nigerian Air have an MD when it obviously doesn’t exist? There is no website, no recognized SM page, No office tailored for that specific office but it has N MD? Wait is he paid salary for this none existent organization?”