Nigeria Air: Reps committee chairman denies Sirika’s bribe allegation, as ex-minister says lawmakers’ position ‘predetermined’

THE chairman, House of Representatives committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, has denied asking for a 5 per cent equity in Nigeria Air, saying the immediate past minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, was not just comfortable with demands of transparency on the project.

Sirika, however, maintained that the position of the committee members against him and Nigeria Air was “predetermined.”

Nnaji described Sirika as “a drowning man struggling to grab anything to survive the barrage of attacks he has been receiving since the controversial unveiling ceremony of the Nigeria Air aircraft.”

The lawmaker, in a statement he issued on Sunday, June 11 while responding to an allegation of bribery Sirika had levelled against him earlier in the day on ARISE Television, said the former minister was not happy that he had demanded transparency and due process in all matters relating to the aviation sector, especially the Nigeria Air project.

“Ordinarily, l would not have bothered to reply to his allegations of my demand for 5 per cent equity in Nigeria Air as he claimed during his interview on Arise Television, but l believe l owe my constituents and, indeed, Nigerians a duty to put the records straight.

“It is on record that last year when the Minister announced Ethiopian Airlines as the core investor in Nigeria Air, my committee, which was also inundated with petitions from various stakeholders regarding that announcement, invited the Minister and his team to furnish the committee with the details of the project,” Nnaji said.

He added that the committee requested for evidence of the bid process that gave Ethiopian Airlines the award and the full business case as prepared by the Nigerian Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), which was supposed to spell out the details of all the investors and their equity contributions.

“Sirika at that meeting said the Full Business Case was still being worked out by the ICRC and promised to make it available to the committee as soon it was ready, which he failed to do before the Airline Operators of Nigeria took the Ministry to court and got an injunction restraining it from going ahead with the project,” he said.

The lawmaker said he crossed Sirika’s path again when there were threats of mass resignations by key personnel of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) due to pressures from the ministry to give waivers to Nigeria Air to enable it secure an Air Operator’s Certificate, (AOC).

Former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika
Former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika

“On May 20th 2023, l received reports of threats of mass resignations by key personnel of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) due to pressures from the Ministry to give waivers to Nigeria Air to enable it secure Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) so that it could take off before the exit of the last administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“I quickly issued a statement warning the former Minister against subverting the authority of the NCAA because of its severe consequences on the Nigeria’s air transport sector. It is also a common knowledge that the Nigerian institutional investors he mentioned as participants have all denied him.

“It is not strange that Sirika came up with this spurious allegation against my person because l remained consistent in demanding that he followed due process.

“He should not deviate from the subject matter. Let him tell Nigerians the truth about the contraption he sold to us as Nigeria Air. Nnolim Nnaji is not his problem,” the legislator added.

The Federal House of Representatives committee on Aviation had on Tuesday, June 6 summoned the permanent secretary in the ministry of Aviation and Aerospace, Emmanuel Meribole, and some industry stakeholders for discussions on the launch, on Friday, May 26, of Nigeria Air.

Nnolim Nnaji, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation.
Nnolim Nnaji, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation.

Sirika had brought in a Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Ethiopia branded in the colours of Nigeria Air for the launch, as reported by The ICIR.

The event attracted wide controversies, and even condemnations, especially when it became public knowledge that the aircraft used for the Nigeria Air unveiling was a chartered flight from Ethiopian Airlines, which was returned to Ethiopia after the unveiling and put into use once again by the Ethiopian Airlines.

The interim managing director of Nigeria Air, Dapo Olumide, confirmed this at a public hearing by the Senate Committee on Aviation.

The ICIR had reported how Nnaji had at the meeting with Meribole and some other industry stakeholders described the Nigeria Air aircraft unveiling as “a fraud.”

But Sirika, on the Arise Television programme on Sunday, said Nnaji was feeling bitter with him on the  Nigeria Air deal because he (Sirika) had rejected the lawmaker’s demand for a 5 per cent share in the airline.

“On the issue of Hon Nnaji who called Nigeria Air launch a fraud, I will respond now. I will say exactly what I told him in private when we spoke.






     

     

    “Honourable Nnaji asked me that I should give him 5 per cent of Nigeria to carry him along with his people, and I said to him at that time, ‘Honourable, a bidding process that has taken place, and some people won. So, I think you should go to those people and ask for the 5 per cent.’ ”

    When prodded further by the programme anchor to clarify if the lawmaker, indeed, asked for bribe for himself and other legislators, the former minister said, “Let’s be fair, Honourable Nnaji didn’t say other members. He said he wants it for himself and his people. His people could be his family, could be members, and it could be leadership. I don’t know, but he insisted on 5 per cent. I said that he should relax and approach the owners. That’s exactly what I told him.”

    Sirika also criticised Nnaji and the aviation committee for conducting what he regarded as a “predetermined hearing.”

    He said, “I was a member of the House of Reps 20 years ago, and 10 years ago, I was a Senator. I know the workings of the National Assembly. He [Nnaji] called for a public hearing. And right under the public hearing, he just turned the paper and read the riot act. The practice in the National Assembly is that after hearing people and the complaint, you now go and sit down as a committee, discuss the issues, raise them, approach the whole House of Reps and take position of the House plus its leadership and come back and make your findings known. But not immediately you just read the riot Act out. It means it is predetermined.”

    Harrison Edeh is a journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, always determined to drive advocacy for good governance through holding public officials and businesses accountable.

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    1 COMMENT

    1. Comment: If what Sirika said’ is true Nnaji want hide us something then if what Nnaji said’ is true Sirika want hide us something” so now what we need now as we re Nigerians. The 10th assembly most open the case agains Former Minister of Aviation and Chairman of Reps aviation Committee’ to Investigate what exactly and Approve Details to Senate and Reps Committee’ and its better to His Excellency Tinubu to Create the Committee under Presidential that are got full evidence about the Ethopian Air’ he said he ask 5 percent, just becouse of their personal Issue! Wow our Country Lawmakers’ I’m Omar Defence Expert and Journalist’

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