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JUST IN: Tinubu’s government suspends Nigeria Air indefinitely



The President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration has suspended the Nigeria Air project indefinitely, just months after its launch.

The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, announced the suspension on Monday, citing numerous issues of secrecy and fraudulent activities that marred the project.

The national carrier, which was intended to be an indigenous project to inspire hope among Nigerians, has been embroiled in controversy since its inception.

The former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who is currently under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for fraud, launched the airline days before the end of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

The controversy intensified when it was reported that a flight from Ethiopian Airlines was repainted and launched as Nigeria’s national carrier. This incident led to the resignation of veteran aviator Girma Wake as Chairman of Ethiopian Airlines.

Capt Dapo Olumide, the then Interim Managing Director of Nigeria Air, clarified that the aircraft used for the unveiling was a legitimately chartered flight from Ethiopian Airlines, and it was returned to them after the unveiling on the last day of Buhari’s administration in May.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Aviation had condemned the launch of Nigeria Air as fraudulent.

On Monday, Keyamo reiterated that the national carrier project, which was supposed to be a source of national pride and hope, was deeply flawed with secrecy and fraudulent activities, leading to its indefinite suspension.

He said; “It was never Air Nigeria. It was Ethiopian trying to flag our flag and not Air Nigeria. That is the truth; it was not Nigeria.

“It only printed Air Nigeria. It was an Ethiopian airline trying to fly our flag. If it is so, why not allow our local people to fly our flag? Why bring a foreigner to fly our flag?

“So nobody should deceive you that it is Air Nigeria. Air Nigeria must be indigenous, wholly Nigeria or must be for the full benefit of Nigerians. Not that 60 percent of the profit is given to another country.

“How does that benefit us? It remains suspended. It remains so,” he said.

Speaking further on some of the steps taken so far to boost economic development in the aviation sector, Keyamo highlighted the commencement of cargo flights. He noted that it will enable Nigeria to tap into the $6 trillion global cargo market.

“We have agreed that we’re going to resume cargo flights between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. This has been suspended for a long time but now cargo flights are back. Guess what? Air cargo trade accounts for 35 percent of the world trade deficit. And air cargo trade, according to the International Air Transport Association, IATA, attracts about $6 trillion annually.

“And we’re missing you know. Within that sector, we were missing in many routes around the world and we have achieved that,” he said.

He added that the issues surrounding the second runway at Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport were addressed within just two weeks of his appointment.

Keyamo promised enhanced airport capacity and operational efficiency.

Speaking further on his achievements, Keyamo confirmed that all trapped funds of foreign airlines have been cleared.

“We all know this issue was the issue of trapped funds of the international airlines. Their funds were trapped here because of a lack of liquidity on the part of Nigeria because of so many subsidies we pay with our foreign earnings.

“Also, foreign airlines were threatening to stop operating in Nigeria. Now, I must give credit to all those in the financial sector for this. We had to work closely with the CBN and the Minister of Finance.

“We had to work closely with all of the ministers in the financial sector. And by our persistence, we are happy to announce that we have cleared all the trapped funds.”

He added that the current administration under his leadership as Aviation and Aerospace Development Minister, efforts have been geared towards prioritising and assisting local airlines.

He disclosed that the move was to help the country take full advantage of its reciprocal right under the BASA agreement with various countries.

Keyamo added that the open sky operation with the United States has begun operation. He explained that Nigeria would begin to enjoy unrestricted flights to the US, deployment of any kind of aircraft on those routes, and multiple entry points.

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