With the government’s poor record on management of public enterprises… the first thing to do is to have Nigerians on the same page on this project. Let there be clarity on Nigeria Air.
The Federal Government, in an apparent effort to fulfill one of its earlier promises, recently unveiled the name and logos of a new national carrier for Nigeria. The unveiling of Nigeria Air has been generating ripples in the polity. Nigeria, after which the airline is named, is said to have purchased a 5 percent stake in the outfit, with the outstanding 95 percent owned by unnamed foreigners. The government paid a staggering 300 million dollars for the 5 percent stake in a startup company, while Air France/ KLM reportedly paid a much lower 286 million dollars for a 31 per cent or so stake in the well known Virgin Airways last year. The government is also said to be undertaking discussions with aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Air Bus, on the leasing of five aircraft for the take off of the airline in December, which is just about five months away.
The decision to have a new national airline some fifteen years after the country’s first carrier, Nigeria Airways, was run aground, is a controversial one. It is widely seen as an ego project, designed to give Nigeria a national carrier “like other nations around us”, and not to meet the most basic needs of the ordinary people.
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While it is good for President Muhammadu Buhari to leave his imprint on the aviation industry, a national carrier should hardly be a priority for a country which cannot afford to provide good roads for the majority of its citizens who may never board an aircraft in their lifetimes. This is moreso as there is a surfeit of airlines flying Nigerian routes and already providing the same services that the coming airline wants to provide. The airline idea has also come at a time that the country is facing serious security challenges such as those of Boko Haram, and at a time that so many sectors of our national life, such as education, health and security, are begging for attention and funding.
This is also a time that the country’s poverty ratings and unemployment figures are soaring, and the feeling in some quarters is that the money would be better used deployed to other sectors. There are also those who believe the new airline will pose an economic challenge to the existing ones.
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Since the airline may become reality, it is necessary to harp on the need for more transparency on the airline affair. Information on every step of the arrangement should be available and made clear to the people. This is to correct the impression that it is just another gimmick to move government funds into the accounts of private companies for the personal use of government officials involved in the deal.
If Nigeria, at all, must have a national airline or any other such big project at this time, it must be established following laid down procedures and leaving no room for unhealthy suspicious, insinuations and suppositions. The government must be transparent on the structure, funding and operations of the airline.
With the dwindling national revenue, it remains to be seen how the government intends to run the airline professionally and efficiently. This is more so with the lacklustre handling of the now moribund Nigeria Airways, which one had about 18 airplanes in its fleet, but ended up owing its workers their retirement benefits.
From the querries that have been raised so far, it would appear that money that the government has committed to the project is well beyond what it should be. The government has also not explained why a project in which it has a five percent only stake is named after it, even as the Nigeria Air domain name has reportedly been registered by a smart Alec who probably wants to use it to make money from the government, as Nigeria would have to buy it back from him. The government also needs to explain how the new airline would operate vis-a-vis Arik Air and Aero Contractors, in which it also has huge stakes, and is their actual owner, having pur chased their debts via the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). The source of funding of the 300 million dollars stake in the new airline has also not been made clear to the people.
It is also not clear who will manage the new airline, between Ethiopian Airlines & QatarAirways. With the Nigerian government’s poor record on the management of public enterprises, doubters of the success of this ambitions project can hardly be blamed. But, the first thing to do is to have all Nigerians on the same page on this project. Let there be clarity on Nigeria Air.
The IDP emergency in Pulka
It is sad but true that while our politicians live in opulence and delight in politics that add little or nothing to the welfare of the people, life is becoming harsh, short, brutish and difficult for many of the ordinary people in the country. While many Nigerians were in stitches early last week over the mass defections from the troubled ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the erstwhile ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), those either rejoicing or agonising over the development did not bother to consider that the political game was nothing about them or their interests, but the horse trading towards 2019 elections.
That is why I would leave the politicians to their tricks this week and focus on the sad fate of many displaced Nigerians living in the Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs) in the troubled North-East region of the country. While our own politicians are busy playing games that would see them returning to the National Assembly in 2019, a foreign organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was busy agonising over the fate of newly-arrived displaced persons in Pulka, Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State.
The international non-governmental organisation, otherwise known as Doctors without Borders has cried out over lack of shelter and potable water for the over 5000 displaced persons who recently arrived the town from the fringes of Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad Basin.
The MSF’s Head of Mission, Luis Eguiluz, has called for urgent measures to avert outbreak of diseases as the people are staying in the open without any accommodation, and in unsanitary conditions. As he put it, more than 5000 women and children stay in the open without shelter, food or clean water; and at the mercy of the rains. The MSF was said to be providing maternity services, emergency surgeries, nutrition treatment and other health services. The fact sheet of the organisation said it has been running a hospital in Pulka since 2016, providing healthcare to thousands of patients.
In a reaction to the situation, the North-East Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Mr. Bahir Garga, said his organisation was working with humanitarian organisations to control the situation.
The condition of IDPS in the troubled North-East should be a national emergency and another reason for the government to quickly bring the insurgency to an end.
The stories of hunger, rape and deprivation emanating from the IDPS are unfortunate, yet our leaders don’t seem to know it, or they don’t seem to care about it if they do. All their actions and permutations are towards their 2019 political ambitions, thereby leaving the people who elected them in the lurch.
Beyond the politicians and the government, the fate of the IDPS is something that ought to worry all people of good faith in the country. It is odd to have so many Nigerians suffering and living in the most desperate situations while some are living in opulence without a care about the fate of the under privileged ones. We need to develop an orientation towards a more caring society.