Nigeria Air: Scamming in Plane Sight – Nnanke H. Willie

Since the only things he could fly were empty, impotent promises there was no airline and no planes

Nigeria air: scamming in plane sight - nnanke h. WillieNigeria air: scamming in plane sight - nnanke h. WillieBy Nnanke Harry Willie

Hadi Sirika, the immediate past Minister for Aviation has been in the news for the wrong reasons. No thanks to his feeble attempt at low-level scamming of a nation of over 200 million intelligent Nigerians with his now infamous Nigeria Air launch project.

In office for eight years, Hadi Sirika was fixated on launching a new national airline. This was even though it ran against conventional wisdom and a surge of litigation against the process that led to the eventual surreptitious birthing of Nigeria Air.

He got tens of billions of Naira to boot to fulfill his dream but alas, all we got were promises, promises and more promises. Since the only things he could fly were empty, impotent promises there was no airline and no planes!

EFCC to arraign Sirika, brother on fresh N8.1bn fraud charges

In a serious government, Hadi Sirika would not have lasted 12 months but he was believed to be among the ‘untouchables’ of the Buhari administration and apparently abused the privilege to the hilt, lasting an incredible eight years!

Weeks to the end of the Buhari administration, Sirika reopened the Nigeria Air issue once again, this time with a pledge that Nigeria Air will take to the skies before May 29, 2023.

Discerning minds scoffed at the prospect of seeing Sirika’s fantasy soar to life. But the man remained undaunted and on May 26, he posted a video of an aircraft emblazoned with the Nigeria Air logo on his official Twitter handle and amid photo ops and drama passed off what was a ‘launch’ of his beloved airline.

In a post to accompany the video, he wrote: “We are here. To Almighty God be all the glory. It has been a very long, tedious, daunting and difficult path. We thank everyone for the support. This, by the will of God, will be for us and generations to come. Ya Allah make it beneficial for our country and humanity”

There was an avalanche of takedowns by Nigerians on the plausibility of this so-called launch and they have continued till this day.

Investigations by Ismail Adebanjo revealed early enough that Hadi Sirika wasted taxpayers’ money to rent the aircraft for ‘static display’.

Adebanjo wrote, “in his desperation to remove shame of failure and convince his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, that he succeeded, Minister of Aviation, Alhaji Hadi Sirika, made a last-minute deal with Ethiopian Airlines, to repaint two of its aeroplanes for a static display in Nigeria on Friday, May 26.”

“The minister has been on this project for God-knows-how-long. He has wasted several billions on it without result. Now, he is in a desperate chase for validation on a project that is not even on the table. Nothing else could be more fraudulent and I believe the government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu understands the game they bare up to”.

A few days after the supposed launch, Nigerians learned that the aircraft was back on official duties for Ethiopian Airlines. This was a launch that did not navigate prospective passengers to any website, no known customer service portal, indeed no staff, no pilots and no suppliers.

The Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, while speaking on Channels TV, on the eve of the fraudulent unveiling, said it was one thing to have an aircraft on ground and another for the aircraft to fly.

He said as far as he was concerned, based on the regulatory provisions relating to the start of airline operation, it was impossible for the national carrier to start flight operation.

According to him, it is practically impossible for the airline to start commercial passenger operation given the rigorous process involved which he believes would not be waived by the regulatory authority, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) as the whole world is watching.

“There’s a very important and vital component of getting an AOC which is the demonstration flights. Of course, there are waivers that the Director General of the NCAA has the power to give, but the demonstration flights are critical to safe operations and I do not think he would give that waiver.

“So, it is practically impossible for the airline to take off in the next two days. It is not possible because they have to do the demonstration flights, the five phases have to be completed, the international community is looking at us to see actually whether we are following what the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) stipulated in their recommended practices and laid down procedures for commercial carriage of passengers internationally.”

Capt. Sanusi has been proven right.

The Chief Executive Officer of TopBrass Airlines, Capt. Roland Iyayi, reportedly said: “It is very clear that the former minister had no clear intention of setting up a national carrier. What he was trying to do was to set up a private airline disguised as a national carrier because he was saying that the federal government would hold only five percent, then of course that cannot be a national carrier…”

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s House of Representatives on Tuesday officially labelled the launch of Nigeria Air “A fraud”. The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation has called for the suspension of the establishment of Nigeria Air.

In 2018, Sirika was accused of spending $600,000 on a Dubai branding agency to design of the logo of Nigeria Air after the supposed carrier was unveiled at the Farnborough Airshow in London in July of that year. Though he denied spending that much, he never presented Nigerians with the exact figure he spent on the phantom project, neither could he justify why the logo could not be designed by a Nigerian company.

As if it is not bad enough that Hadi Sirika was such an incompetent Minister, it is incomprehensible that he could go to the lengths he did to waste our scarce resources to pull off a badly-thought-through scam of a launch before an entire nation.

So, after 8 years of announcing several billions of naira on consultancy services and related costs for a National carrier, all Hadi Sirika was able to deliver was a phantom airline and a marrow-etching insult on the psyche of Nigerians who offered him an opportunity to shine with good works but he decided to pay back with perfidy.

It gets worse seeing that while Sirika carried on with his shenanigans, a state government in Nigeria, Akwa Ibom, within 2 years of announcing its intention to launch an airline did so successfully and has since proved its mettle with Ibom Air as a diligent and impressive airline brand.

Hadi Sirika and all his collaborators must be made to account for the money wasted on this show of shame.

Such scamming in “Plane Sight” should never be condoned!