By Wole Olaoye
Taraba (serving Taraba, Borno and Adamawa).
The list also includes; United Air Service, Aras Airline Ltd, Nigeria Global, Nigeria Eagle (which commissioned an aircraft but didn’t fly and had to take it back); Harco Airline, Premier Airline, Al Bashir, Trans-Sahara Airline, ADC, Oriental Airline, Axiom Airline, Forward Air, Slok Air, Das Air and Cargo, Dornier Aviation Nigeria, Al-Dawood, Premium Air Shuttle and Chrome Air Service.
The rest are; Easy Link Aviation, First Nation Airways, Earth Airlines, Afrijet Airlines, Afrimex, Air Vanni, AlHeri Airlines, Arax Airlines, Arab Wings Nigeria, City Link Airlines, Discovery Air, Delta Air Charter, Hamsal Air Services and Emma-Nik Aviation Service.
There is absolutely no indication that things will be different with Sirika’s pipe dream. Indeed, if morning shows the day, Nigeria Air seems destined for a worse fate: still-birth.
Although he kept most things regarding the proposed airline to his chest as if it was his exclusive patrimony, Sirika was not without a small band of supporters who drummed it loud and clear that the minister was an aviation expert on account of having trained as a helicopter pilot at the Petroleum Helicopters Institute, USA. That much was confirmed in his CV. He was also said to have attended Flight Safety International and Delta Aeronautics, both in the US. If that is all the expertise that Sirika was bringing to the table when he was appointed, then the process of recruiting top political appointees has to be reviewed. There is no esoteric expertise that a two-bit helicopter pilot can bring to transform the aviation sector in Nigeria. He simply cannot give what he does not have.
Looking back now to the period when President Buhari forwarded his name to the parliament for confirmation, many members of the public were not hoodwinked and some of them openly said so in their online reactions. One doubter, @Issysmooth, criticised the candidate’s CV: “Pilot, yet no job experience and date of educational qualification not provided. These men are all impersonators”.
Since age 39, Sirika has been in government. He was a member of the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2011. He was elected as the senator representing Katsina North Senatorial District for 2011-2015.
His flip-flops and verbal somersaults in respect of the Nigeria Air project have been difficult to rationalise. Last year, he announced, through James Odaudu, a deputy director in his ministry, Emirates Airlines was ready to help in the process of establishing a national carrier in Nigeria. Sirika was reported as saying, “The offer is an encouragement to the many bidders currently preparing their public-private partnership bids for Nigeria Air in response to the Request for Proposal advertised by Nigeria.” The minister disclosed that the process for the acquisition of the Air Operator’s Certificate and the Air Transport License was well on course for the expected launch date of the national carrier.
Later, Minister Sirika announced an engagement with Ethiopian Air as the designated preferred partner. The share distribution (Ethiopian 49%, Nigeria 5% etc) looked like the amateur plot of an apprentice scammer. The identities of the shareholders announced by the minister kept changing. Local airlines mounted the rooftops in protest and also approached the courts for adjudication. Mercifully, the marriage was never consummated before Sirika’s tenure lapsed. But curiously, the Chairman of Ethiopia Airline, Girma Wake, tendered his resignation letter and quit his role as the chairman of the Airline shortly after Sirika ‘unveiled’ the proposed Nigeria Air, using an Ethiopian Air Boeing 737-800 specially repainted for the occasion which local Nigerian airline operators have described as a scam, insisting that the aircraft displayed was a Boeing 737 MAX owned by Ethiopian Airlines and covered with Nigeria Air sticker.
As I noted at the beginning, the mirror can reflect the sun, but is it the sun? Somebody ought to have credited Nigerians with more intelligence.
Mr Sirika is welcome to establish an airline in his name. But he cannot appropriate our collective identity for his ill conceived misadventure.
The new administration of President Tinubu has to put all actions taken in respect of the proposed airline under the magnifying glass. My wager is that the entire opaque dealings cannot withstand even cursory scrutiny before being consigned to the garbage bin. And any tail found to have been wagging the cow should be cut.
(Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021)
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