Nigeria Air: Kudos, knocks over aircraft arrival as controversies rage over age, ownership

THE Federal government has welcomed the Nigeria Air aircraft’s arrival, which landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Friday, May 26, amid controversies over its specification, documentation, ownership, and technical agreement.

The ICIR reported the branded Nigeria Air aircraft was expected to arrive on Friday despite the controversy and court order surrounding the project.

The outgoing Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had insisted on bringing in the aircraft before the end of his tenure on May 29.

“We are here. To Almighty God be all the glory. It has been a very long, tedious, daunting and difficult path,” Sirika tweeted on his verified Twitter handle on Friday to welcome the aircraft’s arrival.

The minister told journalists that 30 aeroplanes were expected to form the fleet of Nigeria Air in the next five years and confirmed that only one plane had arrived as he conducted stakeholders around the aircraft.

He explained that the carrier would be private-sector driven, with the Federal government holding just a five per cent stake and private owners holding the remaining 95 per cent.

Reactions have, however, trailed the aircraft’s unveiling as comments on social media questioned its specification and documentation, among others.

The aircraft was flown into Abuja merely for show, notwithstanding anything the minister may say or do afterwards, the immediate past general secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Olayinka Abioye, shared his concern with The ICIR.

Abioye said, “It is globally recognised that the aircraft belongs to Ethiopian Airlines, carries Ethiopian Airlines call sign and is flown by Ethiopian crew.

“No single Nigerian was on board, and further to this, it was an aircraft leased to Malawi years ago and retrieved when their relationship broke down. Available information was that the machine was flown from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Israel for painting, and then flown to Nigeria to fulfil the 419 arrangements of the Honourable Minister.”

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He described it as “an unfortunate development for a country as big as Nigeria to be involved in outright falsehood and fraudulent tendencies as massive as this,” asking, “How can we expect to be respected by other nations?”

The NUATE scribe explained it would take the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) five steps to obtain an airline operation certificate (AOC) for Nigeria Air.

“What the Minister did was a gross violation of extant rules, which others have been punished for. So where do we go from here? I am saddened by this ugly show because, for all intents and purposes, we have just been swindled,” he lamented.

Shehu Sani who was once in the senate, tweeted that the controversy of whether the aircraft was leased from Ethiopian Airlines or purchased for Nigeria Air could be settled if the plane’s documents were made public.


 


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“The minister has committed broad daylight fraud by displaying this rented and hurriedly repainted Boeing 737-800 as an aircraft belonging to a phantom Nigeria Air,” a Twitter user, a media activist, David Hundeyin asserted.



Hundeyin further tweeted.





Another Twitter user, Taye, was worried that the minister intended to commission an aircraft “clearly owned by Ethiopian Airlines” and still in active service. This raised questions about the ownership and technical agreement between Ethiopian Airlines and Nigeria Air.


 


The ICIR can report that the Boeing 737-800 has a registration number, ET-APL; mode, S Q4005C; and serial number 40965/4075. It is about 10 years eight months old, with its first flight being June 22, 2012, as an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft.

It became Malawi Airlines on February 16, 2014, before it was released to Ethiopian Airlines on August 12, 2015, and before landing in Nigeria on Friday, May 26.

Reno Omokri, a social media influencer and former political aide to ex-President GoodluckJonathan, said there was nothing wrong with leasing a plane, even a 10-year-old aircraft.

Omokri argued that a Boeing 737 has a lifespan of 35 years and that new airlines should start with such a plan until the business becomes profitable and stable.


 


“The Nigeria Air will be proud not only for Nigeria but for Africa and its people,” Bashir Ahmad tweeted.


 


Another Twitter user, Woye, hailed the Buhari administration for delivering the Nigeria Air aircraft, adding that history would be kind to him.


 


Meanwhile, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has sued the minister over the planned arrival of the aircraft.

The suit was filed to question what the AON alleged were shady deals, deliberate infractions of the Nigerian laws, and self-enrichment/corruption by the Aviation ministry over the Nigeria Air project.

Filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, the court granted orders of interim and interlocutory injunctions restraining the Aviation ministry from taking any step concerning the Nigeria Air project.

In a letter dated May 24, 2023, the airline operators, also dated May 24, 2023, requested President Buhari to compel the minister to obey a court order restraining him (Sirika) from bringing in the aircraft.




     

     

    Signed by its lawyers, the letter was copied to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Inspector-General of Police, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, and Federal Ministry of Aviation.

    Drawing the attention of the President to the court order, the operators stated, “In the suit, the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos presided by Hon. Justice A.L Allagoa, in the above suit, granted Orders of interim and interlocutory injunctions, in the terms contained in the Order, restraining taking of any step in relation to the Nigeria Air project. Copy each of the Orders are enclosed as Annexures 1, 2 & 3.”

    The operators have now threatened to sue Sirika for contempt of court for planning to launch the carrier despite a court order stopping the project.

    They maintained they would pursue the contempt action against the minister personally, whether or not he leaves office, for the promotion of the rule of law, protection of the court’s integrity and in line with international best practices.

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