Like a house divided, there is discordant tune in the President Buhari-led Federal Executive Council as two key ministers have openly disagreed over reason for the suspension of the national carrier project, Nigeria Air.
While Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the action was taken due to investors’ apathy, as those who were supposed to partner with the government on the project were no longer forthcoming, Minister of State, Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika fell short of calling him a liar.
“This couldn’t be farther from the truth,” he said.
Faulting his colleague, he insisted that the national carrier project had an avalanche of well-grounded and ready investors.
During the unveiling of the logo of the Nigeria Air at the Farnborough Air Show, Sirika had insisted that the airline will be privately-operated.
“It is a business, not a social service. The government will not be involved in running it or deciding who runs it. The investors will have full responsibility for this.”
But barely two months after its proposal, Sirika had on September 19 revealed that Nigeria Air, which was supposed to begin operations in December, had been suspended indefinitely by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
No reason was given.
However, addressing journalists on Monday at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, Mohammed said government took the step because investors who were supposed to partner with the government on the project, backed out.
“If the understanding of government at the beginning was that the project might be self-financing or the project would be financed by investors and you think that such a project can no longer be sponsored by investors, either because they are not forthcoming or such venture can no longer be viable, the government is at the discretion to take a decision.
“The position of government in business is to provide the enabling environment and it is not to become the sole source of finance or funding and in addition, there is much more than funding in trying to get our national carrier. So, the Federal Government thinks this thing should be stepped down now until we get a better funding structure.”
But a few hours later, Sirika reacted. In a statement by Mr. James Odaudu, deputy director, Media and Public Affairs, Ministry of Transportation, he said the national carrier project had an avalanche of well-grounded and ready investors.
The investors, according to him, included international finance institutions such as the Afro-Exim Bank, African Development Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, aircraft manufacturers – Airbus and Boeing.
“They also include airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Air etc. and some reputable individuals and entrepreneurs.
“The Office of the Minister of State for Aviation has noted, with consternation, various opinions, comments and observations in the media regarding the status and the reasons for the recent suspension of the processes leading to the establishment of a Nigerian national carrier.
“Among the reasons being given for its suspension, especially in the social media is the absence of interested and ready investors.
“This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as the national carrier project has an avalanche of well-grounded and ready investors,” he said.
The minister also stated that the country’s participation at the Farnborough Air Show in the United Kingdom in July was not for the sole purpose of unveiling the Nigeria Air logo contrary to public belief.
He explained that the air show was also a meeting point with those potential investors who saw the event as another opportunity to market and reemphasize their interests in the project.
“It is also pertinent to clarify that the Federal Executive Council only suspended the process for the establishment of the national carrier for the time being. The project has not been killed. These clarifications have been made in the public interest,” he said.