UNTIL the release of the White Paper on the investigations into the activities of the roguish past chief executive officers of the defunct Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), most Nigerians never knew that a high level of corruption was perpetrated in the national carrier.
The rot necessitated government’s intervention through the institution of a judicial commission of inquiry headed by the Honourable Justice Obiora Nwazota (retd). The findings of the panel will astonish even the world’s most notorious criminal.
It is apposite to state from the outset that for some time, including the period preceding the latest probe, the once flourishing airline had no functional aircraft. In 1979 when General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over the reins of government to the country’s first elected executive president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a man of urbanity, Nigeria Airways had 32 aircraft on its fleet, but only two dysfunctional planes were in the hangar shortly before its demise!
Ahead of my comment on the commission’s report, which is the thrust of this analytical essay, I find its preamble reproduced subsequently critical to the discourse as a guide to the reader’s appreciation of the unconscionable and wicked looting that took place in the institution. As you will read shortly, virtually all the helmsmen and their rank–and–file accomplices that passed through this establishment soiled their hands without any reservation. It is imperative to recognize the fact that it was not just the airline that was violated but the entire nation and its people.
How could have a group of managing directors and a few employees between 1983 and 1999 siphoned about N54 billion because they had the privilege of working in a segment of their country’s aviation industry? This outrageous banditry informed the choice of this subject this week even if on a sadly reflective note.
What happened in this sub–sector was indeed the looting of a nation, not just its airline. I have never heard of this kind of blind conduct and thievish brazenness.
Those who carried out this nefarious act should, by now, be behind bars if this were not a clime of scammers right from the corridors of power down to extortionist functionaries of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), whose ambush and violation of motorists make mincemeat of Robin Hood’s operations.
At this point, let me reproduce the preamble, which I find very critical to this work, before addressing the pertinent issues arising from there vis–a-vis the totality of the commission’s startling discoveries. I will also examine the tepid and shameless reactions of some of the indicted former bosses of the airline since the commendable publication of the White Paper.
“It is generally agreed that the Nigeria Airways Limited has failed the nation in its mission of being a viable national carrier. The carrier is so badly afflicted that it can no longer perform the role for which it was established.”
With this kind of scandalous scenario, it was not surprising that the government had to empanel an investigation committee comprising Justice. Nwazota, Chief Chimezie Ikeazor (SAN), Chief Yemi Adefulu, Dr, Mfon Amana, Alhaji Mika Anache, Chief Eni Okoli (secretary) and Mrs. Catherine Okon. The terms of reference covered the investigation of the management of NAL. Instead of boring you with the details of the terms of reference and the entirety of the findings, let us dissect the aspect of the public document pertinent to this contribution and pore over the culpability level of each managing director and key employees during the span of enquiry.
From the benumbing revelations made by the commission, it was as if all the past CEOs indicted went into the organization with a singularity of purpose: loot it dry as your capacity enables you. It is certain none of them ever thought that a day of reckoning will come. The depth of mismanagement indicates that there was no code of corporate governance at the time or that the bandits found it contradictory to their obscene mission.
In the systemic raid of the airline by one CEO after another, the national carrier was left in eye-popping debt–-both genuine and spurious. So, apart from the currency of their banditry, these brainless CEOs also mortgaged the organization which ensured that the airline remained moribund from 1983 or thereabouts till extinction.
This was an agency that used to be a source of pride to Nigerians because of its leadership and reputation on the continent. It is regrettable that even far smaller West African countries still fly their national flags. What NAL’s looting suggests is that corruption is endemic in our environment and has become a way of life. Almost all of us in this county seem to have a proclivity for corruption and predilection for kleptomania.
In its one-year cumulative examination of the sordid transactions in the airline, the judicial commission, which appropriately ought to have been a tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, Cap 447 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, was mandated to investigate the financial position and financial management of the airline, application of funds and allied issues, the level of indebtedness, assess the image and effectiveness of the company with regard to domestic and international obligations, ascertain the marketing policies and their efficiency, procurement and maintenance procedures, determine the number of aircraft in the company’s fleet and of course “make appropriate recommendations in ways and means of recovering any sums lost by the company and recommend measures to be taken to prevent or forestall future occurrences (sic),” among other sundry issues.
The central issue in the mismanagement of NAL is that all those who looted the company must be compelled to refund everything they misappropriated. President Muhammadu Buhari should, on resumption revisit the looting of the Nigeria Airways in line with the thrust of his administration which revolves around accountability, transparency and integrity.
These willful acts of corruption must be punished, no matter how belated. Government is a continuum, after all. If the looters are allowed to go free, the whole battle against institutional scam would have been subjected to mockery. The interesting bit is that all the perpetrators of these heinous aviation crimes against our fatherland have been duly identified.
Since the extinction of the national airline, most of its pensioners have died because of unpaid allowances while those alive are living miserably having used their youthful age to serve an agency of their fatherland. As you read this, there is no remedial plan for this category of Nigerians. President Buhari must make a difference in this matter under the tiles of our collective shame!