I have heard the first question raised above asked several times by Nigerians in different quarters and at different fora and the latter coming up in recent times, but with nobody able to appropriately respond. For some, it is the spirit of our founding fathers that is haunting us due to the failure of the present generation to uphold the tenets of their sweat and abandoning their Nigerian dream and, as such, we need to appease them, not with palm oil or goats or any form of sacrifice but redemption of the pledge. To the spiritualist, it is God that Nigerians have offended since they largely fail to abide by His will. While some Nigerians will hastily contest the latter, in view of the fact that a country that parades huge numbers of religious homes and activities cannot be said to be offending God.
The proponents of this view forget to differentiate religiosity from Godliness. Indubitably, Nigeria is a religious country but regrettably, largely, ungodly. To this extent, one might tend to agree with the proponents of the latter view that our ways do really offend God. Just recently I was on a flight with a Nigerian friend from Cairo to Sharm el Sheik, the new tourism hub of Egypt. As we flew over the region at night, and seeing the magnitude of the investment and the touristic value of the place; not yet contemplating the foreign currency inflow and influx into the country by virtue of the development, my friend could not but ask, rhetorically, what did we, as Nigerians, do to God? This enquiry has become a recurrent decimal in the life of Nigerians, particularly when they find themselves in other progressive societies with less resources and human capacity but heart-warming developments.
It is in this context that I intend to engage the handlers of our aviation industry on some of the issues affecting us as Nigerians, and in which we seem to have no shepherd. The first area of my engagement is on the type of equipment (aircraft) used to fly Nigerians in and out of the country by international airlines. This is an issue that has been a bother to me for a long time, particularly whenever I fly the Emirates Airlines between Dubai and Jeddah in contrast with my Emirates flight from Nigeria to Dubai. The latter is seven-hours-plus flight while the latter is usually around two hours, thirty minutes to forty-five minutes. Just few weeks ago again, amongst my several other experiences, I flew Egypt Air out of Nigeria to Cairo, Cairo to Sharm el Sheik and then Cairo to London.
The Nigerian leg of the flight was over five hours, the Sharm el Sheik flight was just 41 minutes while the London leg was 4 hours, twenty-five minutes. In all of these flights, the worst equipment used was that out of Nigeria, which was just basic, bare and a shadow of the equipment. For Nigerians that fly other Airlines such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Royal Dutch Airlines, name it, same revelation is obtainable. It is the same treatment that is meted to us as Nigerians by virtually all the international airlines. Why must this be so? Is it that Nigerians do not deserve the best; or is it that we are just used to hardship? Or is it that because anything goes? Is there anybody or organization in charge of this affair of ours? These are some of the questions ruminating in my mind but to which I have no answer.
Honestly, I need answers to these enquiries from those in charge otherwise my impression will continue to be that the relevant Nigerian officials are compromised, and or that the Nigerian government, especially those in aviation give no hoot to the welfare of Nigerians and are equally complicit. Why must it always be that the rejects of the equipment must be the allotted ones on the Nigerian routes? The pathetic aspect of this conversation is that Nigerians even pay more on the routes than in most other comparable or longer routes. For illustration, a round trip British airways ticket from Lagos to London and return is USD8,631, a six hours flight while over seven hours round trip ticket of London, New York and return is USD4,675 while Accra-London-Accra is USD3,791 as at 28th October, 2022.
This is not dissimilar on a Virgin Atlantic where the round-trip ticket of Lagos, London, Lagos is USD9213; London to new York cost of USD4,593. One would have thought that the longer the flight, the more desirable of a comfortable equipment that is modern. Alas, for exculpable reasons, this is inapplicable in the Nigerian situation. The converse really seems to be the case. Upon my enquiry from some relevant quarters, I was given the explanation that the situation is so because of so many vagaries, particularly insecured status of the country. For example, I was informed that the cost of insurance of flying to
Nigeria is astronomical for both the aircraft and the crew. This is coupled with the additional cost of securing the crew in Nigeria. I also understand that the cost of operation in Nigeria is prohibitive due to the multiple taxes imposed. Firstly, must we readily submit to the insecure state of Nigeria, so as to force high insurance premium on the airlines? ME THINK NOT. Another reason put forth which is unverifiable is that the cost of the upper/ business class tickets is expensive in Nigeria because of the penchant of Nigerians for it. It is said that the cost differential is not that pronounced when it comes to economy class. Due to the demand for the upper/ business class therefore, the airlines as traders do not have a choice than to take advantage by demanding the highest fares based on the principle of demand and supplies. I even understand that these days, the upper/ business class tickets are auctioned by the airlines.
This is a laissez faire thing, a capitalist market, so to say. As much as to a certain extent, this will appear plausible, my challenge is why the other foreign airlines like the European ones, other than the British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, not imposing those high-end fares? Why is the case of African airlines in terms of reasonable fares different from that of the Asian airlines like Emirates, Qatar? There seems to me to still be a disconnect in all these. A further enquiry by the relevant stakeholders/authority might still be desirable. I am quite optimistic that at the end of such exercise, the fares are likely to be moderated. My amazement, however, is the role of the Aviation regulators in all these? Are they helpless in the face of this continuous exploitation of Nigerians? Don’t we have the vires to moderate the fares upon negotiation with the airlines?
Are we as usual sold already? I am not too sure that other economies leave this totally unregulated.
This brings me to the issue of local airlines. Air Peace has been struggling to enjoy Nigeria’s reciprocal slots in most of these countries but is continuously frustrated. Nothing seems to have been achieved in this regard as far as most of the European destinations, especially the United Kingdom, are concerned. Recall how the Nigerian authorities fought their way through with the Dubai authorities on the issue of the slots for Air Peace. Today, Nigerians have a choice in that route for reasonable fares and with similar equipment used by the Emirates Airlines.
This, I believe, is another antidote to the escalating fares on the Nigerian route. The British Airlines and some European Airlines enjoy the monopoly of direct connection, thereby forcing the fares through our throats. By the way, Nigeria Air is still floating in our biggest dream and as traditional of us, it is still in the pipeline. I understand we are wet-leasing some equipment for the purpose and there have been controversies dubbing the venture. These range from the business model, cost implication, to the choice of technical partner, the Ethiopian Airlines with stakes in the project.
Aviation experts have largely condemned this initiative of a 49% stake by a rival Airline with significant in road in Nigeria. I believe their thoughts are worth considering and evaluating. I recall that as chairman of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria at a time, the Corporation had not less than ten serviceable aircrafts in between the Arik Airlines and the Aero Airlines, both in receivership, all being implicitly properties of the government then. The Corporation believed that those aircrafts ought to be the take off point of Nigeria Air but that did not sit well with the Aviation Ministry. All efforts to make the Ministry see this point was resisted and jettisoned for the acquisition of new equipment. The wisdom in that option in my view is yet to be demonstrated but obviously accountable for the undue delay of the take off. I am sure that if that plausible option had been taken, by now, the new Airline would have been waxing.
Out of frustration, Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria had to resort to the establishment of a new airline called NG Eagle for the purpose of utilizing the fleet but unfortunately, till date, no approval to operate has been granted.
Those aircrafts have been on ground for a long time now and one can only imagine not only the cost implication of the loss that is being incurred daily, but the continuous depreciation inflicted on the aircrafts. This is the Nigerian story and someone, somewhere needs to intervene.
I am sure that I am not being taken seriously on this invitation, as it is trite that this administration minds its business when it comes to such things as detailed out in my last column (Daily Sun Newspaper of 3rd November 2022 “Things fall apart https://www.sunnewsonline.com/things-fall-apart-2/ ”). Consequently, since it would appear NG Eagle was brought in dead, it is not too much to say adieu to the idea whose time to die has come before it was conceived. Unfortunately, without options for our people, the foreign airlines will continue to take advantage and continue the onslaught and exploitation.
The said law of demand and supply will continue to thrive. I, therefore, pray that the incoming administration will evolve a formula for solving the challenge so that the sufferings of Nigerians will terminate. Again, the picture painted above is not peculiar to the Aviation sector, it is all pervasive in the country and that explains why we must urgently locate the person, deity or entity the country has wronged so that we can go for appeasement.