Many things divide opinions and attract waves of strong debates in Nigeria. Nigeria Air ticks the division and argument boxes and firmly so. It was launched in July 2018. It has remained in the news. Here we collate five of the things we know so far. Five might not do justice to this hot trend. Five is a perfect starter.
1. The airline was launched without aircrafts
In fact, the aircraft hasn’t been launched if launching means anything behind logos and branding and social media PR. The airline has been taunted as a prestige airline and for a long time, even the launching seemed to be one done out of national pride. The announcement of Air Nigeria was done in London by the minister of state for aviation Hadi Sirika at the occasion of the Farnborough Air Show. The ministry said the occasion was chosen in order to market the airline among global aviation gathering.
“We hope to establish an airline that communicates the essence of our beautiful; an airline we can be proud of. I am confident we will have a well-run national carrier.” Hope. Will. To Market. No aircraft on ground. Perhaps, the unveiling was a show-off. December 19, 2018, will tell. This is the date the airline is to start its business of flying 81 routes proper. The airline plans to begin with five planes with the plan of growing to thirty. They began the company without a single plane.
There can be only one counsel: Mock not the days of little beginning.
2. Its logo was designed abroad
While Nigerians were still smarting over the choice of London as the venue for unveiling the elusive national prestige carrier, news emerged that the logo was designed abroad.
Logo. Ordinary logo o. Imagine, a logo o, designed abroad? You wonder. This is Nigeria, save your wonder. When this information first hit the social media, many doubted its veracity. No, the Federal Government cannot go this low, not with a logo. It later emerged that From 6 Communications, a branding company based in Bahrain designed the logo. While aviation authorities might want to hide this news, the company are not on the same page as they released a video, celebrating their latest accomplishment.
An accomplishment which is made of a clichéd ribbon that they probably outsourced to fiverr.com for five dollars. The company was paid 600 thousand dollars for this. Nearly 200 million naira for an effort an amateur designer in Nigeria will not be proud to display.
3. Air Nigeria is the tenth attempt of Nigeria trying to own a national carrier
The ghost of previous national carriers haunts many. After a trail of corruption, unpaid entitlements, accusations, and counter-accusations, for many Nigerians not sold to this idea, the fear of a repeat of these is too much to wish away with patriotic zeal and optimism.
While you are here, for reference, see: Facts about Kenya Airways
The first national carrier was the Nigerian Airways, an indigenization of the West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) owned by the British and taken over by Nigeria at independence. The name Nigerian Airways was coined in 1971. This was the longest national carrier in Nigeria and the most successful, lasting four decades and flying to the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East at its peak.
Mismanagement, corruption, unpaid hajj and government missions meant that the airline didn’t make a profit. Debts set in. Nigerian Airways became a liability.
Attempts to privatize the airline failed due to the usual suspects of corruption, bureaucracy and the lack of political will. In all these time, the national airline has floated under names such as Air Nigeria, Nigerian Global, Nigerian Eagle, Virgin Nigeria and Nigeria One some of these names been used more than once.
For many who are aware of the chronicles of the previous attempts to own and run a national carrier, the current pudding by the Buhari Administration is a little too much to swallow.
4. FG has put in 108 billion naira in Nigeria Air… So far
“Government will not hold shares beyond five percent at the topmost.” These were the words of the minister on launching what he said would be a Public-Private Partnership. The search for investors have begun in earnest, it seemed. Perhaps, but the news making round is that the Federal Government have made an initial commitment of 300 million dollars into the project. That is more than 100 billion naira. If this is five percent of the airline income then it would cost 6 billion dollars more than 2 trillion naira to fund.
Where does the government intend to get such money from? Except the 300 million dollars already committed is the chunk of the capital in which the talk of PPP is what it is, a talk. For a company that is projected (rather generously) by the minister to make its first profit in three years’ time, this amounts both the committed and the estimated ones are eye-popping.
5. Nigeria Air: Too many questions, little answers
Questions have besieged the Nigerian Air project since the announcement was made. These questions with the tendency of being swept under the carpet of detractors and opposition are salient. These questions include the tweet of entrepreneur Mark Essien who wonders why the airline is not just listed on the Stock Exchange for Nigerians to directly own it. This is in the same line with the query former minister of Education and Due Process coordinator Oby Ezekwesili raised. Why seek for investors abroad when the government can open it to Nigerians via “Competitive Bid”?
And if Nigeria only owns 5 percent of the airline is it really Nigerian Air? Rwanda Air, Kenyan Air, Ethiopian Air, South African Air, examples of well-run airlines in Africa are 100% own by the countries whose names they bear. Is 5% enough? Another question is on why the minister does all the talking and is in charge of the negotiations so far, for an airline that will be private sector driven.
John Ojikutu, a retired Group Captain, speaking to the Punch has his share of questions: “Whoever is planning these routes for the new national carrier should go into records and see what happened along some routes between Nigeria Airways and KLM; Nigerian Airways and South Africa Airways and Nigeria and Virgin Atlantic. You cannot go into the same business with your competitors as partners.”
African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) chairman Nick Fadugba raised questions as regards conflict of interest. Speaking with the Nation Newspaper, he said: “I am interested in how the national carrier interfaces with all the other airlines in Nigeria. Because the government is the de facto owner of two other airlines. Arik and Aero, so. This is the first time I have seen one government own three airlines.”
“There are many questions that need to be answered in terms of the management, the funding, and the fleet,” Fadugba concluded.