Nigeria’s immediate former aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, on Sunday, accused the former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji (PDP, Enugu), of demanding five per cent shares of the national carrier from him.
Mr Sirika made this known while speaking on an Arise Television programme on Sunday.
“He (Honourable Nnaji) asked me that I should give him 5 per cent of Nigeria Air to carry him along with his people,” he said.
“I said to him at that time, Honourable, a bidding process has taken place, and some people won. So, I think you should go to those people and ask for the 5 per cent.”
The former aviation minister’s comments came less than a week after the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation alleged fraud in the unveiling of Nigeria Air and demanded the prosecution of Mr Sirika and all those associated with the “controversial” unveiling of the airline.
Reacting to claims making the rounds that he spent N138 billion on the hiring and repainting of the unveiled aircraft, Mr Sirika said it is ridiculous to think that such an amount would be expended on hiring an aircraft. He noted that the amount could get the ministry five new Boeing 777 max aeroplanes.
“We are responsible people and the general public should approach the Ministry of Information and apply for the right of information to see for themselves,” he said.
“That is the same fly air peace people want Hadi Sirika to hand over Air Nigeria to. OBJ handed Nigeria Airways to his friend company, Arik Air, and Arik is indebted to the tune of over N300 billion, of which Nigeria taxpayers’ money is N250 billion via AMCON.”
In his response to Mr Sirika, published by Daily Trust newspaper Sunday evening, Mr Nnaji questioned the claims put forward by the former minister.
“Sirika is a drowning man struggling to grab anything on his way to survive the barrage of attacks he has been receiving since his controversial unveiling ceremony of the so-called Nigeria Air,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.
“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.”
PREMIUM TIMES’ efforts to reach the lawmaker Sunday night were unsuccessful.
On 18 July 2018, Nigeria Air, the nation’s proposed national carrier, was unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in England. However, the project was shelved two months after as critics raised concerns over its relevance and sustainability.
The airline was expected to gulp $8.8 million in preliminary costs and $300 million as take-off costs.
In July 2022, the Federal Executive Council approved the leasing of three aircraft to enable the airline to commence operations.
In September last year, Mr Sirika said at a press briefing in Abuja that Ethiopian Airlines emerged as a core investor in Nigeria Air with a 49 per cent shareholding.
The decision was trailed by a suit filed by local airline operators who claimed they could manage Nigerian Air better than a foreign airline. Some of the domestic airline operators are still in court seeking to stop the federal government from partnering with Ethiopian Airlines to float the national carrier.
When the minister unveiled the airline less than three days before his exit from office last month, only one aircraft belonging to Ethiopian Airlines was unveiled at the ceremony.
This generated concerns among Nigerians on social media, many of whom questioned the move and Mr Sirika’s handling of the airline’s proposed operation.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) subsequently rejected an application from the nation’s national carrier, seeking certification to proceed to “phase two” in the process of obtaining an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC).
The NCAA’s rejection letter indicated that there is no adequate preparation for the airline’s operation despite Mr Sirika’s repeated promises to Nigerians that the national carrier would commence operation before the swearing-in of a new administration on 29 May.
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