African Outlook Online

Ade Shogbonyo's column

Resuscitating Nigeria's national carrier

Resuscitating  Nigeria's national carrier 

  By Ade Shogbonyo 

Only in Nigeria can the general public be repeatedly raped by their ruling class and yet still “ask for more”. It has been hinted by the current Minister of Aviation that a new Nigerian National carrier is in the making and it is expected to take off in 2012. How convenient. It is an absolute affront to the sensibilities of every God fearing and Nigeria loving Nigerian to have this fostered upon them. Nigeria Airways (the elephant) was cut and diced by criminals that still walk freely today. 

Nigeria Airways became synonymous with total inefficiency, corruption and waste. Ineptitude and incessant government interference finally put the last nail in its coffin.

Massive debt was racked up in the name of the Nigerian people on behalf of Nigeria Airways. Nigeria Airways was notorious for pulling aircraft off scheduled routes with passengers left in the lurch to embark on a Federal government sanctioned charter.

High ranking government officials had the power to delay flights or even in extreme cases force diversion. Government agencies employees were known to fly on the carrier without paying; the idea was that the money owed by their individual agency to Nigeria Airways for their travel was all to be settled at the end of the day as the carrier also belonged to the government.

Nigeria Airways was a monetary black hole. It was the goose that laid the golden egg and people made sure they killed the goose. The employees were notorious for complicit actions that were criminal in nature such as pilots conspiring with station managers on fuel rackets, or hiding of true revenue generated. In extreme cases Pilots undertook unscheduled flights that were not reported to the company, the revenue split between the crew and the ground based conspirators.

Engineers were known to steal parts which ended up being sold to its competitors, Maintenance contracts abroad were inflated and in some cases outright fraudulent. Ground based staff sold their own tickets, pocketing revenue from ticket and cargo sales. Those in the office were cooking the books stealing the company blind.

 Nigeria Airways became a dumping ground for unqualified and incompetent employees and paradise heaven for “Ghost workers”. As expected, all bad things always come to an end. But in Nigeria Airways’ case the end was also mired in controversy, corruption and outright fraud. For a fraction of what Nigeria Airway’s assets were worth, it was sold to a local clown of a businessman who owned a company called Arik Air. 

 Arik Air has become the poster child for private sector ineptitude. It is virtually impossible for Arik to make money in its current state of being run. It is the only passenger airline in the world that has employment contracts with non-indigene pilots that work one month on one month off. Arik’s maintenance contract is also ludicrous. Corporate waste and ineptitude seem to be the company’s watch words. It is somewhat curious that the company is run in a way that guarantees its failure.

Early in 2011 the alarm was sounded that some unscrupulous, ignorant and despicable Nigerians had hatched a plan for Arik to be taken over by the Federal Government to become the new National carrier. This caused a slight uproar and certain denials and attempts to obfuscate the issue. Now once again through a new Minister of aviation, another attempt at trying to rape Nigeria is being executed.

If experience has been at all anything to go by, there is no reason for another foray in to airline ownership by the Federal Government. Was the reason behind Nigeria Airways failure not government ownership? Why tread along a well beaten, discredited path again if not for reasons of corruption and fraud. 

 The recent bailout of Nigerian Airlines including Arik with easy loans has not resulted in any real transformation of these carriers per se; all it has done is to kick the inevitable down the road.

This is why after the bailout money has been squandered the Nigerian people will be left to pick up the tab. As usual if this eventually happens the “owner” of Arik will walk away Scot free possibly a much richer man than he was when he founded Arik with the Nigerian people poorer. If this scenario does not pan out, there would be plan B, find a willing patsy, a co-conspirator who will be the new face of Nigerian fraud.

Nigerians must demand accountability for the “bailouts”, there should be no new national carrier until those that contributed to the demise of the last national carrier are prosecuted for their individual and collective criminal fraudulent acts.

 In any other sane society, he and his ilk would ultimately be prosecuted for fraud but alas this is Nigeria where fraud is a national pastime where people are given national honors for being crooks.

Why should those that are pushing this hare brained high tech money laundering operation be bothered, it has once been said “…in Nigeria anything goes, at worst they will turn to churches, and we have got them there too…”

 

Lets wait and watch! 

  

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