One of the instruments for projecting the prestige and power of nations is their national carrier. They take advantage of it to make their countries destinations, centers and melting pots of cultures and people. In Africa, countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa enjoy international visibility and prestige through their national airlines.
As the giant of Africa, many Nigerians believe that the country is long overdue for a national airline to restore it to its lost glory like in the days of Nigerian Airways.
Therefore, the appointment of Senator Hadi Sirika, a pilot and patron of the Rubicon Polo Team who has been a key player in the aviation industry for decades to manage the Ministry of Aviation, gave hope to many Nigerians.
In addition to bringing the Nigerian aviation industry in line with international best practice, one of the determined efforts of the Minister of Aviation has been to ensure that Nigeria has a national airline. Since 2015, the minister has remained constant in the national transport project.
In an interview with journalists in 2017, the minister said: “I think in the next few months, two months at the most, we should be able to have our business case outlined for this transaction and then the full business case will follow almost immediately after. because we are doing it simultaneously and after that we started the process to establish the airline. So I will say that we are very close to having the national airline established. Certainly, it will be within the first term of this administration.”
Although he missed the goal of having the national airline in the sky, in the first term of President Buhari’s administration, he has not given up on his dream.
Recently, the establishment of the national airline came up again in the media when the minister held a press conference, where he revealed that the country’s national airline is on the way to being launched.
The minister said, “Nigeria Air will launch with a shuttle service between Abuja and Lagos, other domestic destinations will follow later. The National Carrier will launch with three Boeing 737-800s in a configuration well suited for the Nigerian market.
Sirika further revealed that “The request for proposal (l) under the PPP Act, governed by the ICRC, is complete. After a careful, detailed selection process led by the ICRC, the Ethiopian Airlines Consortium has been selected as the preferred bidder, offering a proprietary consortium of three Nigerian investors MRS, SAHCO and the Nigerian Wealth Fund (46%), the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) owns 5% and ET 49%.
“The consortium has been subject to a due diligence process, after which the contract between the consortium and the FGN will be negotiated, which will result in a Complete Business Case, which is expected to be approved by the Federal Executive Council. We expect this process to take 6-8 weeks.
“An interim executive team of highly qualified aviation experts has been working since February 2022 to establish all the industry and regulatory requirements necessary to launch National Carrier. All executives have been approved by the NCAA, the air transport license has been issued by the NCAA, Nigeria Air (having identified the first three aircraft) will now finalize all the necessary operation manuals and then go through the inspection process and NCAA approval.
The recent effort to establish a national airline has pitted local airlines against the Federal Government in a legal dispute. Media reports indicate that the Managing Director, Top Brazz Aviation, one of the local carriers listed in the court document, Mr. Roland Iyayi, said he believes the domestic carriers have a strong case for the court to decide. .
He said: “We are absolutely prepared to continue with this. Based on what we presented to the court, we believe we have a very strong case. Based on the documents we have submitted, we believe we have a very strong case.”
Iyayi further explained, “Domestic airlines are not opposed to having a national airline. What we are saying is that the structure and design being drawn up by the Hon’ble Minister of Aviation is an issue which we believe will not help the Nigerian state in the long run.
“We have also realized that undue privileges will be given to this new airline that domestic airlines do not enjoy. For example, the government proposes a 15-year tax holiday. This is not domestic carrier transparency and undue privileges that will ultimately result in a distorted market. At the end of the day, we will decimate the internal market at the expense of consumers. In the absence of being able to sit around a table to negotiate, we have no choice but to go to court before it is too late.”
Whatever the problems and perhaps the loophole discovered by the national aviation operators and stakeholders in the process of implementing this important national project; what is clear is the determination of the Aviation Minister to ensure that Nigeria has a national airline in the lifetime of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
When the National Airline of Nigeria goes live, it will be well positioned to address one of the main challenges of air travel on the African continent, which is the connectivity of destinations.
In line with the foreign policy of Nigeria, which is Africa as the centerpiece of its diplomacy and the renewed effort of economic diplomacy, particularly in the ECOWAS sub-region, it is important to draw the attention of the minister to align the national airline with foreign policy of Nigeria by making it the most dominant national airline on the continent before expanding.
I am very optimistic that the establishment of Air Nigeria will be a legacy of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. With it, the administration would have managed to activate and give life to one of the instruments of national power and power projection that will better position Nigeria as the heart of Africa and the true giant of Africa.