The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation has queried the partnership between Nigeria and Ethiopia on the Nigerian Air project.
The lawmakers, who raised their concerns at a public hearing on Thursday in Abuja, said that they were determined to protect national interest.
Rep. Preye Oseke (PDP-Bayelsa) said that the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hardi Sorika was quoted to have said that Nigeria has only five per cent shares in the partnership with Ethopia airline on the establishment of Nigerian Air.
He said that the members that heard the minister were agitated following the announcement of Ethiopian airline as major partners.
Oseke said that the committee is baffled by the type of business module that gave Nigeria only five per cent stake in the Nigeria Air project.
He said that the committee needed a detailed explanation of the various stakes on the establishment of the Nigerian Air.
The lawmaker said that the committee needed explanations on the process that saw Ethiopian Airline emerge as the only bidder for the project.
The Chairman of the committee, Rep. Nnolim Nnaji (PDP-Enugu) said that some Nigerians had raised concerns on the establishment process of Nigerian Air.
According to him, Ethiopia is a competitor to Nigeria and the business module is going to offload Nigeria’s advantage to Ethiopia which is a smaller country.
“The traffic is in Nigeria and that Nigeria is not doing well today does not mean it cannot do better tomorrow.
He said that Ethopia airline was already doing international travels and was about to take over local traffic which is largest in Africa.
The Vice President of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mr Allen Onyema agreed that there was need for a Nigerian carrier.
According to him, the fear of AON is that Ethiopia has tried everything possible to access the Nigerian market both frontally and from behind; they started with Dana using Airs Sky.
He recommended that the Nigerian Air be wholly Nigerian investment saying the way Ethiopia was coming would not benefit Nigeria.
Also, Capt. Roland Iyayi, a member of the AON, warned against creating something that would ultimately destroy the sector.
According to him, the partnership with Ethiopian Airlines for us, we consider it ill-advised for a variety of reasons.
He said that the Ethiopian government had put in place policy that was deliberate and intentional to protect Ethiopian Airlines.
“So if we talk about the successes of Ethiopian Airlines, we are talking about an Airline that has been able to invent itself.
“It was aided by various policies of government to ensure that it can fly even in an hostile environment.
“The domestic carriers do not have the same luxury. Domestic operators in Nigeria are operating in the most hostile of environments you can imagine for any airline company.
“If the Nigeria Air project is subject to the same conditions of the current operators in the same domestic market, it will fail,” he said.
The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hardi Sirika, told the committee that five per cent shares is for Nigerian government, 59 per cent for Ethiopian airline consultium while 46 per cent is for Nigerian investors.
He explained that five percent shares was allocated to Nigeria because stakeholders do not believe that businesses handled by Nigerian government would do well as seen in the case of Nigerian Airways.
He said that if the proposed airline was structured and ran like the Ethiopia airline which is 100 per cent owned by government, it would do well.
Sirika said that the Ethiopian airline kept flying even during the civil war in the country and despite COVID-19, it declared one billion dollars profit.
He said that the reason for the five percent was to ensure the airline had a sovereign funder and to boost investors confidence.
The minister further explained that in accordance with relevant laws, there was nothing wrong to have Ethiopian airline as the only bidder.
He said that after the process, in line with Swiss challenge, if any one willing to match the single bidder could still step up within the required time frame.
Sirika said that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the national airline must work before the end of December.
He said that Nigeria deserves to own a national carrier that would be structured in a way that would stand the test of time.
Sirika said that the ministry had given all the stakeholder in the Nigerian aviation sector to participate and invest in the establishment of the national carrier.
“From all the submissions we received, we have identified partners and investors and we are currently negotiating and processing the Air Operator Certificate (AOC).
“I want to commit here that between now and the end of the year this airline will work,” he said.