Following an authoritative statement by the federal government a few days ago, Nigerians can now look forward to April 2022 for the commencement of operations by Nigeria Air – the much awaited national carrier in our aviation industry.
Hadi Sirika, Minister of Aviation told the media at the end of last week’s meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) that majority shares of 49 per cent of the Air project will be owned by strategic equity partners, another 46 per cent by Nigerians while the Federal Government will own five per cent of the shares.
Minister Sirika also reported FEC’s approval of N1.49 billion for the provision of Automated Civil Aviation Regulatory Equipment at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport. The equipment is to govern the activities of civil aviation regulations which are done electronically on one platform, including payments, follow-ups on personnel licenses, medicals, economic and safety regulations of airlines as well as all other businesses within the envelope of civil aviation. Beautiful story!
The approval was significant especially to the Minister and his team because it came after previous proposals on the subject had been turned down 5 times. Industry watchers and indeed many Nigerians must no doubt have been happy with the development considering the huge gap left in the aviation industry as a result of the demise of the former Nigeria Airways.
On the other hand, many Nigerians may have received the news with mixed feelings. While some see the project as a worthy venture because of its capacity to serve as a symbol of national pride, others are quick to recall that Nigeria Air cannot become a symbol of national pride except it is properly run.
Perhaps the most serious challenge to the project and its handlers would be government interference notwithstanding that she reportedly has just 5 percent of the shares. As history has shown, government in a developing nation can control whatever it wishes to control irrespective of the proprietorship of the entity concerned. The nation’s private broadcasters for instance, have a lot to bequeath to posterity about government control.
In the case of Aviation, running a national carrier in a large but developing society cannot be easy. It is thus simplistic to imagine that Nigeria Airways died because it was essentially a government business which hardly thrives in Nigeria.
In truth, whether or not the business was run with private partners may not matter much. Otherwise, how do we understand what happened to the arrangement which created Virgin Nigeria Airways – a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic Promoter, Richard Branson? The venture was to develop Nigeria into Africa’s aviation capital.
But after 5 years, Branson shut the operation allegedly as a result of what was described as excessive government interference in the operations. Accordingly, it is probably too early for anyone to clap for the proposed Nigeria Air.
The other day, some Abuja to Kaduna train passengers confirmed that to buy a ticket for the service can be cumbersome as officials of the supervising ministry regularly send a list of would-be travelers that usually destabilizes the plans of the managers of the system. Who can stop that from happening to Nigeria Air?
Beyond government’s interference in operations, there is also the political determination of which location deserves to have an airport. A visit to some airports in Nigeria would leave one to wonder whether there was any technical or business plan that influenced the location.
In some airports, ordinary local flights come in once a week yet some of the airports are officially designated as international. Will Nigeria Air not be under a policy to operate such routes in the “public interest?”
If that happens, it would signal the first step towards liquidation. But it is heartwarming to hear from the top that because of lessons learnt such would not happen. However, the most constant lesson of leadership failure in our ventures is that history teaches no lessons to Nigerians.
Anyone in doubt should take a cursory look at some controversial policies of the past that are currently being reformulated, the first finding would be that the rationalization being made is exactly same as the ones made before, either on points or language.
Within the operational environment in which Nigeria Air cannot be an island unto itself, air travels are at best shameful. Every Nigerian flight begins with an apology for delayed departure “due operational reasons.”
The unintelligent rehash of the stereotype is not the only cause for concern. Also offensive is that it happens to all flights by every operating aircraft on every and any day and no one is positioned to check it.
Therefore, let no person suggest that Nigeria Air will be different because the operators would not be different: they would be mostly Nigerians. This is more so as there is nothing particularly special about the entrance of a new operator into the business.
Aero Contractors, Arik, Airpeace and Ibom Air in that order, came in with a lot of promise which seems to fizzle out in a couple of months. In fairness, each one tries to be different at its inception but the existence of a colluding instead of a viable regulator diminishes the intended value. Anyone hoping that it won’t happen to Nigeria Air would merely qualify for decoration by my old headmaster as “utopian optimist.”
My first fear that Nigeria Air may make only a cosmetic difference was the report credited to Minister Sirika that the project would generate 70, 000 jobs which according to the report is larger than our bloated civil service.
I am still actually waiting to hear that the figure was fake news because if in this age of technology, our national carrier will operate an analogue system of bureaucratic jobs then we are in trouble.
The story instructively reminds me of one of the findings by the famous Oronsaye panel that one of our Aviation Agencies – the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority had 253 Assistant General Managers. Other sister agencies in the sector were not quite different but no one appears to be in charge of loud speakers which are not audible to all air passengers.
And because no one coordinates the business in our airports, passengers are admonished to obey Covid 19 protocols only when on a queue to pick boarding passed. But within the enclosed aircraft which is most conducive for infection, there is no space to obey any protocols: all seats are fully occupied.
Interestingly, airfares increase by the day though the increases were initially justifiably premised on the ground that airlines were obliged to carry only a fraction of their full capacities so as to obey covid protocols.
It is only in our clime that passengers pay fines for being late or for not showing up at all; yet, when it is the airlines that are late which occur daily or when they cancel flights, they pay no compensation or discounts to any person other than the chorus of apologies due operational reasons.
If this is the environment we are bringing Nigeria Air into, one can confidently say her fate is foretold. Naturally, Nigeria Air would assimilate the culture of its environment and generously display it on the international route where the airline is most needed by Nigerians as a symbol of national pride. At home, all the airlines, will continue to be greatly patronized not for service delivery but for fear of our pernicious highways.
The point to be made therefore is that it is too early to clap for the announcement of the coming of Nigeria Air. Its managers must endeavour to familiarize themselves with global realities by imbibing current practices that are attuned to the most effective and efficient ways of managing air travels.
source: vanguard news