Immediate past Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, broke his silence on Sunday on the controversy surrounding the last-minute unveiling of Nigeria Air – allegedly with a chartered Ethiopian Airlines aircraft. He dropped a bombshell, alleging that Nnolim Nnaji, Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, asked to given five percent shares of Nigeria Air.
Speaking on Arise TV/Thisdaylive programme, Sirika said that after the bidding process, Nnaji had called him on the phone and had asked that he and his people be given five percent of Nigeria Air.
The former minister said he had explained to Nnaji that there was a bidding process and people won; so if he needed shares in the carrier, he should go and buy from the shareholders.
Recall that last week, the House of Representatives has faulted the Nigeria Air purported launch of May 26, 2023 stating that Hadi Sirika, the former Minister, and other proponents sought to hoodwink the country.
Nnaji had declared the launch of Nigeria Air a fraud.
Sirika during the live interview hinted that the against data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and Compilation of Budgetary Allocations alleging that N85 billion was spent on the national carrier in eight years, he said less than three billion has been spent so far.
“Between 2016 to 2023, all the money that was approved was five billion naira and only three billion naira was released and not all has been spent. The money spent so far was spent on transaction advisory, salaries, office in Abuja, consultancy and Air Operating Certificate (AOC) processes.
He explained that Nigeria Air is 95 percent private sector driven with 49 percent shares owned by Ethiopian Airlines, 15 percent owned by SAHCO, 31 percent owned by others and just five percent owned by the federal government
He said Ethiopian Airlines will be investing 49 percent of 200 million dollars into the project as the main investor.
Speaking on the launch of the airline, the former minister said Ethiopian Airlines did not want to wait to be issued an AOC before they do the unveiling, adding that Ethiopian airlines decided to carry out the unveil of the airline as part of their marketing strategy.
He said he did not know why SAHCO, one of the investors wasn’t invited for the unveil, adding that just as others were he invited to witness the unveil, he Sirika was also invited by the owners of the airline.
“The Unveiling of Nigeria Air was done by the owners of the airline and not the federal government. The owners led by Ethiopian Airlines will be ready to fly when the AOC is ready. The unveiling of Nigeria Air was just to showcase the brand,” Sirika said.
He said Ethiopian Airlines are permitted by law to operate into Nigeria as scheduled flight, chartered flight or cargo flight.
The former minister said Ethiopian Airlines chose to operate Nigeria Air as charted flight and government did not pay any money for them to bring in the flight or brand the aircraft.
“Government did not pay any money for Ethiopian Airlines to bring in the aircraft. It is the airline’s marketing strategy as a partner. No penny was paid to Ethiopian airlines. There is no iota of truth in reports indicating that federal government paid money to bring in the aircraft.
“Ethiopian Airlines took back the aircraft after the unveil since the AOC is not ready. Ethiopian Airlines are masters at the game. They will not keep an aircraft on ground to be accumulating debts. So, when the AOC is ready, the airline would be ready to fly,” Sirika explained.