COVID-19: How Cabals Hijacked N4bn Airlines’ Bail-out Funds
* We didn’t influence sharing – Ministry
Some cabals have hijacked the N4billion airlines’ bail-out fund provided by the Federal Government to salvage airlines following the economic pangs from the COVID-19 pandemic era.
Although major airliners in the country such as Air Peace, Aero Contractors, Dana Air, Arizona Air, Azman Air and Overland Airways pocketed a portion of the fund based on their staff strength, our correspondent gathered that several beneficiaries of Northern extraction have pocketed sizable portions of the fund without air operator’s certificate (AOC) which was one of the criteria for disbursement.
The government, through the Ministry of Aviation and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) decided that the major criteria should be the possession of a valid AOC before other considerations such are the number of aircrafts in the company’s fleet and staff strength.
In a bid to douse the tension among airline operators arising from the unfair sharing, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. Hassan Musa has been making personal calls to airliners who didn’t benefit in the bail-out fund, assuring them that another alternative would be made to mitigate their losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While aviation stakeholders have expressed displeasure over the disbursement process, there is dissatisfaction and unrest among domestic airline owners, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria, AON, as some members begrudge the leadership for missing out on the intervention fund.
Speaking with our correspondent, the Chief Executive of TopBrass Aviation, Mr. Roland Iyayi said: “The major criteria was AOC, some other conditions, like how many aircrafts you have and the number of workers you have. These are the things used to set the criteria for airlines to be paid, consquently, some airlines got paid and other airlines didn’t get it.”
According to Iyayi, the sharing formula has created some sort of dissent among airlines, “What airline owners are saying is that we all fought for this. We should have stood up for everybody and not taking it at all if it was not going to be given to everybody. We have common interests and personal interests, but some people consider their personal interests more important than common interest when it comes to money and that is what we have seen and experienced.”
Iyayi who applied for $10million but got nothing, said “I have not in any way collected any kobo. I have aircraft on the ground and aircrafts that haven’t flown. The AOC have not been renewed because the renewal is in process. Meanwhile, there are people who have no AOC or have no aircraft and they got paid. So, the question is, how did they arrive at that?”
“It’s true that not everybody will access the fund but people are unhappy, because the issue of interest became key. So, certain people of Northern extraction got paid, even though they had nothing because I know of one particular airline that got paid, but I don’t want to really go into name calling. I’m not asking to be given something I have not worked for. If the government in its wisdom think it wants to set up funds and be able to make sure that the airline industry thrives, I would imagine that everybody with aircrafts sitting idle should get assistance”
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema described the disbursement process as transparent while speaking on a television broadcast last week.
Onyema, however, argued that the effects of the bail-out would be worthless if the right business environment wasn’t created to support aviation business and investments in the sector.
While commending the Federal Government for the fund which would be repaid with 5% interest, Onyema said, “The biggest accomplishment for the sector is the complete waivers of duties on aircrafts, spare parts and air transport fares which was passed into law recently. Without this crucial enabler, whatever fund provided by the government would be irrelevant.”
Speaking on the dissatisfaction over the disbursement process of the intervention fund, Onyema pleaded with aggrieved airliners to understand that the goal of the government was to dissipate fiscal woes on airlines to enable them pay their workers.
The Air Peace boss who is also the Vice President of AON, stressed that AON didn’t influence the disbursement of the fund as the beneficiaries were fully determined by the government through the Ministry of Aviation.
“Airlines were asked to bring forward their payroll from January to March 2020 with bank evidence and some people brought numbers they couldn’t defend. NCAA intervened to show the strength of each airline because they licensed the Engineers and Pilots,” Onyema explained.
Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Aviation, the Director of Public Relations, Mr. James Odaudu debunked claimd that the Ministry influenced the sharing of the fund.
Responding to allegations that the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika gave the fund to his friends, Odaudu said, “Which airline that is in operations that did not get? As far as I know all airlines operating that were fully certified got the palliative and we are not aware of any negative reactions to this or anybody complaining”.