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Nigerian Minister Suspends Nigeria Air Project Amid Controversy

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The newly appointed Nigerian Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has ordered the suspension of the Nigeria Air project, a move that has garnered support from the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) who had raised concerns about the transparency of the project and the involvement of certain firms linked to the then aviation minister.

This decision marks a pivotal moment in the tumultuous history of the country’s national carrier project, which has been marred by controversy and legal battles since its inception.

The AON, who had vehemently opposed the previous government’s approach to the national carrier project, expressed their satisfaction and solidarity with Minister Festus Keyamo’s decision. AON’s spokesman, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, emphasized the lack of transparency and flawed nature of the Nigeria Air project, stating that it was “ill-thought-out.”

Minister Keyamo announced the suspension during his visit to Lagos airports, revealing that the Nigeria Air project was currently entangled in a legal dispute between AON and the former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika. He cited the need for a comprehensive review of the project’s terms and conditions to safeguard the interests of Nigerians.

Furthermore, the Minister disclosed the suspension of the concession agreements for Abuja and Kano international terminals, as Minister Keyamo intends to conduct a thorough review to “safeguard the interests of Nigerians.”

The AON’s objections to the national carrier project date back to last year when they filed a lawsuit against former Minister Hadi Sirika, seeking to halt the project and revoke the Air Transport License previously granted to Nigeria Air by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The AON had also raised concerns about the transaction adviser firm, alleging links to the aviation minister.

Adding to the project’s complexity, in June 2023, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) summoned former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, for questioning, further fueling suspicions surrounding the initiative, according to the report.

Additionally, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) revealed that Nigeria Air had only reached the initial stage of a five-phase process required to obtain an Air Operator Certificate (AOC) for commercial airline operations. Local airlines had raised objections, asserting that the AOC issued to Nigeria Air did not undergo proper security clearance, and they voiced concerns about the partnership with Ethiopian Airlines potentially impacting domestic carriers negatively.

The project’s opacity also faced scrutiny in a June meeting when Senator Biodun Olujimi, Chairman of the Senate Aviation Committee, sought answers regarding the rushed unveiling of the national carrier on the last day of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

The suspension of Nigeria Air by Minister Keyamo received commendation not only from AON but also from various industry stakeholders. AON expressed confidence that the suspension would enable a thorough review and corrective actions, ultimately restoring Nigeria’s image in the global aviation community.

Moreover, AON stressed its belief that the terms previously set for the national carrier would have been detrimental to Nigeria’s aviation sector, potentially leading to the dominance of Ethiopian Airlines. The association remains optimistic that Minister Keyamo’s vision for the sector, driven by public interest, will contribute to the development of a sustainable and competitive aviation industry in Nigeria.

“We have no doubt that the Aviation Minister has the right vision for the development of the sector which is driven by public interest considerations for the good of Nigerians,” the statement noted.

The future of Nigeria Air now hangs in the balance as the nation awaits the outcome of the comprehensive review and the steps to be taken by the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development under the leadership of Minister Festus Keyamo.

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