The Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, has called for the dissolution of Nigeria Air, the national carrier unveiled during the previous administration.
This is as he suggested that the country should rather invest in a flagbearer airline than a national carrier, which he described as a ‘moribund’.
Onyema, who spoke on Arise Television’s morning show on Wednesday, criticised the shareholding structure of the airline, saying that it favours Ethiopia. He argued that Nigeria is contributing the financial investment for the airline, while Ethiopia is set to earn 49% of the venture without actually putting any money into it.
Recall that the Federal Government took delivery of the first plane of the country’s national carrier, Nigeria Air, amid protests from local airline operators that it was contrary to a court order, which barred the government from taking further action on the project.
The Air Peace boss further revealed that in 2019, Ethiopian Airlines approached Air Peace for a partnership, but he turned down the offer because of his patriotism for Nigeria, adding that according to the agreement signed for the stake in Nigeria Air, Ethiopians were not expected to bring in any money as an investment into the project.
Also, he alleged that the leadership of the entire management of the proposed Nigeria Air—the DFO, CEO, and all the management positions—were to be headed by Ethiopians while the deputy position was given to Nigeria.
Onyema stressed that the unveiling of Nigeria Air despite the litigation was a total disrespect of the judiciary that should not be tolerated.
On the agreement between Nigeria Air and Ethiopian Airlines, he said, “The leadership of the entire management—DFO, CEO, all the management positions—was to be headed by Ethiopians while the deputy slots were given to Nigeria.
“Look at the shareholding; ET has 49%; there is a company called Fairfax, who is this Fairfax? It is owned by ET; their transaction advisers and they are going to get three per cent, 1.4/1.5% of the shareholding capital which is put at $250m and ET will bring $122m but not as cash but as rentals.
“It is only the Nigerian companies that are going to bring money; SAHCO and MRS. I have the document here. ET is not bringing a penny into Nigeria; ET will pay rentals for their plane for five years. It is written here in black and white. Even if they pay the $122 million, Air Peace alone is worth over $2 billion. As I speak to you, Boeing is in my office now for the delivery of our 737 Max, which is costing over a billion dollars.
He added, ”The aircraft from Embraer that we started receiving cost about a billion dollars; five of them have entered Nigeria; ET is bringing nothing and they are going to get 49% of your country’s wealth. I call on President Ahmed Bola Tinubu to immediately dissolve this charade called Nigeria Air and start his own thing.”
Speaking on why the idea of owning a national carrier should be abandoned, Onyema said, “Contrary to what the minister has been saying about Nigeria and the importance of having a national carrier, the national carrier is a moribund idea worldwide. Countries don’t go that route anymore, it is a drain on any country. Those who are in it are running out of it. The phrase national carrier means government ownership. What governments do these days are flag carriers.
“British Airways is a flag carrier; it is owned by the IAG group. Only a very few countries are still into national carriers like South Africa, and South African Airways is bleeding the treasury of the country. They have tried to close it several times, but the unions fight back; the government is tired.
“Countries don’t go that route, why should Nigeria in 2023 be going instead of moving forward? All they needed to do was strengthen the ease of doing business so that people of means, and private concerns of means could invest in the aviation industry.
He added, ”We are not fighting for ourselves and neither are we afraid of competition, nobody is afraid of this national carrier because it will fall and fail like a pack of cards. What we are saying in AON is that they should improve the ease of doing business in Nigeria, remove those challenges that are stunting the growth of airlines in Nigeria and these airlines will blossom, but they did not.”
On whether Air Peace was interested in partnering with Nigeria Air, he said: “When they wanted to do the national carrier, we gave our comments and we knew the whole thing was shrouded in secrecy, our members told Air Peace to apply and when you go to that website, you will be blocked. We never got anywhere. We did try.”
Speaking on why it was yet to commence London flights, he said, “When we applied, first of all, to get the destination, it was difficult. Later, when I was given a destination, they gave us three frequencies. I cried out, I said, “Why these? This is a low-hanging fruit of a six-hour trip; I can do daily flights to London. They told me that another airline, OmniBlu, was also getting some frequency and I was asking, “Whose airline is OmniBlu in Nigeria? Later, they increased it to four and then we applied.
“You need to apply for TCO; they wrote to the Nigerian authorities to ask if they know about Air Peace and I was denied. They said no, we didn’t know them, we didn’t know they were applying, we didn’t authorize them to apply and I said for what? So TCO, that’s the European Tech Companies Operators, you need to get this before going into any European countries for operations; they stopped us.
“NCAA didn’t allow us to go into London for four years; the reasons they gave were that Arik messed up, Arik and Medview messed up in London, therefore, we don’t want to be disgraced. Not NCAA under the present DG. In fact, to the credit of the current DG, he was the one who took up the fight with the government. Almost stopped British Airlines from coming here.
“The other DG before him, for four years we were not allowed to go, so who was manipulating them? For no reason, when you go, they say ‘from above’ I wanted to fight, but for the love of my country, there are some things I would say that would turn into ethnic issues, and I don’t want that, so I kept my cool.
“Later the NCAA said we should get an IATA audit on TCO; mind you, we have IOSA, and that is the highest international safety audit for any airline. We spent hundreds of millions of dollars to do that, and at the end of the day, Air Peace passed the audit and then they said, “Now we have to audit you ourselves.” The game continued until Musa Nuhu stepped in and said enough is enough before they now allowed us to apply. We are still on it.”
He also hinted that plans are ongoing to distribute palliatives to its staff as part of measures to cushion the impact of the removal of the petrol subsidy.
He said, “The minimum wage in Air Peace is about N50,000 and we are in support of President Ahmed Tinubu. We addressed our staff to support the removal of the fuel subsidy and we are going to support them.
“Beginning this month, we are going to dish out palliatives to our staff in support of the government,” Onyema said.