On 15 November 2022, a war began between eight local domestic airlines and stakeholders of a brand new airline, Nigeria Air.
The war came in the form of a court order from the domestic airlines which demanded that Nigeria Air stakeholders halt their launch and withdraw its Air Transport License.
The stakeholders in question are big players including the nation’s Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, Ethiopian Airlines, Nigeria Air, and the Attorney-General of Nigeria, Abubakar Malami.
However, it seemed to get some of these guys pissed, as the Minister of Aviation openly ‘raised shoulder’ to say that “no law in Nigeria could stop the launch of the national carrier.”
There is a lot to be unveiled about the court case, but let’s first start from the basics. What is Nigeria Air?
What you need to know about Nigeria Air
The “national carrier” has been a subject of conversation since July 2018, when it was first announced at the Farnborough Air Show in England. Barely two months after the announcement, the project was suspended because the details surrounding the project were “suspicious”.
But according to some presidential sources, the airline was secretly planning to get “investment partners” to finance the airline’s operations.
And they appeared to be right. Fast forward to September 2022. A foreign airline, Ethiopian Airlines, emerged as the ‘preferred bidder’ for Nigeria Air, with 49 percent ownership of the company while two local investors (MRS, SAHCO) were left to own 46 percent.
How did Nigerians take the news?
Of course, you can already expect the reaction. Most Nigerians did not understand why a foreign company would have so much autonomy over a Nigerian airline. Others said that already existing domestic airlines like Arik and Dano would have served as national carriers instead of creating a new one.
Not to talk of the fact that Nigeria once had its own airline, which crashed and burned because of corruption and mismanagement.
Now, why the court order?
After some local airlines discovered that they were blatantly left out of the bidding process, they proceeded to find a law that will enable them to take Nigeria Air to court.
They eventually found this with the Companies and Allied Matters Act. This forbids foreign companies from investing in national companies.
The airlines in question are AON, Azman Air Services Limited, Air Peace Limited, Max Air Limited, United Nigeria Airline Company Limited, and Topbrass Aviation Limited
But, were they really justified in doing this?
The answer to this is a bit tricky. Sirika claimed that he asked airlines to participate in the project, but they turned down the invite. These included three of the eight airlines – Air Peace, Azman Air, and Max Air.
According to Sirika, “I have been very transparent in the processes put in place to deliver the national carrier. We have worked with all stakeholders to deliver the national carrier. We have been very participatory and inclusive.
“Stakeholders claiming they were not carried along are being unfair. Nobody should claim they were not carried along. Nobody asked for any document on the national carrier that was not obliged.”
How will the launch of this national airline affect Nigerians?
Here are some of the ways this new airline may affect Nigerians:
- International Recognition: Nigeria would finally join the bandwagon of countries that have their own national carriers.
- Level Playing Field: It will certainly create more domestic competition for Nigerian-based airlines and foreign ones.
- Lack of local autonomy: Ethiopian Airlines hold all the cards in terms of ownership. This means a large amount of authority in managerial decisions. The effects of this could spell doom for Nigeria’s nascent airline.