BY Sade Williams/Business a.m.
Hadi Sirika, a former senator and Nigeria’s current minister of aviation, took the opportunity offered by the ongoing World Government Summit (WDS) in Dubai to offer multiple assurances that the government will keep its hands off the new national airline being planned by the government.
There have been outcries of ‘here we go again’ over government’s decision to float a new airline after once Africa’s largest airline, Nigeria Airways, was run aground by the Nigerian government, which has shown a high degree of incompetence at running profit making businesses for decades. It has led to calls that a new national airline should be left to the private sector and be totally out of government control if it must go ahead.
But in Dubai, Sirika, participating on a panel on the future of aviation moderated by Richard Quest, a CNN anchor, said the federal government was committed to a private sector driven aviation sector, assuring that the proposed national carrier will be free of government interference.
When Quest asked the minister why Nigeria wanted a national carrier, Sirika said: “Nigeria is situated at the centre of Africa, equidistant from all locations in Africa. 30.4 million square kilometres miles, 1.5 billion people, very green land. If Central and Eastern Africa is the belt of the continent, then Nigeria is the buckle; 200 million people and rising middle class, propensity to fly is high. Nigeria is a candidate for a National Carrier.”
When he was asked if the airline would be private sector driven, Sirika said; “Private. Yes. Five percent government and no government stepping right in that company, no government control, no membership of government on board. Totally private and committed.
“Absolutely. When we came with the Buhari government in 2015 I became the minister. We were committed to a roadmap to establish a National Carrier, to concession the airports, to set-up a leasing company, to establish cargo facilities, and we have been doing that.”
When he was questioned on whether the government would be able to keep its hands off the new airline, the minister replied, “Whatever we say we will do as a government since 2015, it has happened. That is why Tim Clark’s Emirates, Qatar Airways, and all of them are looking to go into Nigeria at multiple frequencies and multiple landing points because Nigeria is the right place for airline business.”
When Tim Clark was asked if he would get involved in Nigeria’s feat of establishing a carrier, he responded: “Is there a business case for the carrier? Of course, there is.There is an enormous business case to it. Nigerians are seeking to travel all over the world. Nigeria is a powerhouse of Africa. We are over interested in flying there because it is a rich nation in terms of demand for services. If the minister needs some assistance in how they go about practising a blueprint, we are very happy to help, but I would say not to be too disingenuous to ourselves, if they they got the wherewithal, they clearly understand what they are doing and they are doing it and, probably, in the next year they will [have] a very good carrier flying; and please come to Dubai because there is so much demand.
On Nigeria’s response to the pandemic the Nigerian aviation minister said: “The countries have to do it. Look at the case of Nigeria. We have 200 million people in Nigeria and most of them live close to each other in cities jam-packed with 20 million people in Lagos and 40 million people in Kano, something has to be done unless people would die. We closed the country immediately at that time. And that is why in Nigeria up till today only 3,500 deaths were recorded from Covid19, and just about 250,000 infected and 245,000 discharged from the hospitals.”
Sirika, who said there is no doubt about the statistics from the pandemic said: “Yes I believe. Otherwise people would have been going to the grave unexplained. It worked very well, then, gradually things began to ease out and business began. Don’t forget before Covid-19, Nigerian aviation became the fastest growing sector of the economy. The airlines doubled, passengers numbers quadrupled, numbers of airports doubled all during the Buhari administration of six years.”
On one change he would love to see when his time ceases as a minister, he said: “I want to see that Nigerian aviation industry continues to be led and private sector-driven, and [that] there is more efficiency and safety in the sector and given that we have added 50 million capacity to four airports recently. We are building more runways and treating the issue of Air Navigation Services (ANS) and all of those things that will make aviation smooth, efficient and safe and the most preferred option of travel. And if you look at it continentally, Africa, the only way African Union (AU) agenda 2063 can be achieved is by aviation because rail and road take tremendous amounts of money to establish and to maintain over a continent of about 54 countries in 30.4 million square kilometre.”