The discourse on Nigeria having a national carrier has been hovering from past governments to the current administration yet it is still elusive. The President Mohammadu Buhari administration is even at a full throttle to give Nigeria a national carrier before evacuating office on May 29th 2023 but the reality betrays their efforts and stages in flying a national flagged aircraft. The administration embarked on this mission in November 2021 and pledged to deliver the national carrier in April 2022 but till the writing of this piece the Nigeria Air is still trapped. Nigeria was stripped off having a national carrier after the liquidation of the Nigeria Airways which operated from August 23, 1958 to 2003.
No doubt that Nigeria needs a national carrier, it’s a shame that the giant of Africa lacks a national carrier even after the joint experiment between the United Kingdom and Nigeria that produced the Virgin Nigeria collapsed in 2012. The puzzling question is if the government has put in the work to have a national carrier? So far, the public is only aware that the only successful action towards the actualization of the dream national carrier is the acquisition of the Air Transport Licence (ATL) while other criteria are a miss. No demo flights, no crew for cabin and cockpit in order for the government to obtain the next certificate – Air Operator Certificate (AOC). Where are the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities to maintain the aircraft when it is birthed?
Obviously, since the government lacked a built in Nigeria aircrafts, there has been bidding to determine which nation would fund the aircrafts that would bear the name- national carrier and the choice has fallen on Ethiopia. Due to the clause of the government, Ethiopian Air has 49 percent equity , the Nigerian government 5 percent and then Nigerian local investors, 46 percent- how can this be justified ?
Critics and aviation stakeholders have faulted this private-public ownership as nothing but a camouflage. There is nothing Nigeria in it. So far, the Nigerian investors who constitute the 46 percent equity are unknown. The identity known is that Ethiopian Air has 49 percent equity. This development portends another doomed government enterprise. It’s a case of the local parlance-“Monkey dey work, Bamboo dey chop”.
This is because as business rule and as a capitalist Ethiopia would lower fares to convert the Nigerian market to their brand and subsequently stifle private domestic Airs that undergo international flights. This marriage between Ethiopia and Nigeria would only help Ethiopia to dominate in Africa. The equity allocated to them is high and only helps them to perpetuate favorably in the Single African Air Transport Market when executed! The Federal Government is helping Ethiopia tidy up their home when theirs is in disarray.
It is a Trojan horse that would bring more loss than gain to Nigeria. This pattern would be worse than reasons that sent the defunct Nigeria Airways packing. Why is the government trying to make a second mistake? Why is the government on the quest to circumvent the process because they are yet to check off some requirements stipulated in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) regulations? The NCAA finds it illegal to use foreign registered aircraft to start commercial airlines in the country, noting that wet leased aircrafts come with the cabin and cockpit crew as complementary packages. This means that the essence of having a government homegrown airline to reduce unemployment in the country is defeated. These pitfalls probe if the country is ready for the national carrier. There is no gain of this partnership for the country apart from an aircraft with the Nigeria Air emblem. What happened to using Nigeria domestic owners to champion the investment? As a government affair, Nigeria needs to play the upper hand to be able derive the future gains and control. This is not condemning private public ownership, but you can’t give your neighbours the best meal and eat the leftovers. The government should not be obsessed with foreign products but loathe theirs.
For Nigeria to grow, the people need to be selfish in transactional approaches. The epoch of charitable government when Nigeria gave succor to many nations in the 1970s is history. Nigerians can’t even be their own succor let alone help another land weed and cultivate their lands.
The Federal Government needs to rethink and consider the long term and not be fixated on the short goals to promise and deliver! If they are so fixated to imprint their footsteps in the aviation sector they can rehabilitate the airport infrastructure, Nigerians would not forget their era in a hurry if the airport vicinity takes a new look as seen in developed climes.
Like other modes of transport which many successive governments keep promising to give Nigerians a viable intermodal transport system in tune with developing trends, the national carrier may still remain a mirage till the next administration.