Shareholders of Nigeria’s largest carrier, Arik Air have described as unfortunate the alleged plan by the federal government to hand over the airline to a foreign operator, Ethiopia Airlines.
Reports show that Ethiopia Airlines has indicated interest in signing a contract with the federal government to take over the management of Arik Air, which Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) took over from the owners in February this year due to huge debts owed by the later to both the government agency and banks.
Speaking on behalf of the shareholders, the former Vice President of the airline, Senator Anietie Okon said the planned takeover by Ethiopia Airlines was not coming as a surprise because the shareholders had been aware that the East African airline had been lobbying to take over the management of the largest airline in the country and had a foothold to exploit the Nigerian domestic air traffic market.
“This is not coming as a surprise since Ethiopia Airlines has a commercial objective of dominating Africa. What is a surprise is the shamelessness and desperation of our aviation authorities to mortgage the future of our country for gold and silver.
“Arik Air, a wholly owned Nigerian company operated without hitch for 10 years. It started when naira was 150/$1 and fuel was 97 per litre and managed without any significant increase in fares, it survived for 10 years in a very hostile operations environment, paying loans it obtained in USD and salaries to over 2000 employees. The company ran into heavy clouds as the economy went into recession and next line of action was for AMCON to take it over and now hurrying to hand it over to a foreign company that will sack most of the indigenous staff of the airline,” Senator Okon said.
He excoriated the “level of lack of patriotism and shamelessness by some people in government offices” and described it as “appalling and desecration of national decency and honor.
“I really will not blame Ethiopian. It is the gullible Nigerians who will sell his countrymen for peanuts. The aviation industry is losing Nigerian workers every day because the domestic airlines are dying. This is an industry that is projected to employ about 9.7 million Nigerian if well managed but everything is being handed over to foreign companies that will sack our people,” Okon said.
He remarked that given a homegrown business that had run consistently well to the pride of country; it would be an aberration for government not to establish the real reasons why the airline went under.
“They should look at why Nigerian airlines don’t survive for a long time. They should look at their policies and operating environment in the country, which to us is an indictment of the country itself. It’s further complicated with the fact that Nigeria generates the traffic that even all regional carriers including the famous Ethiopia Airlines depend on in West and Central Africa. Now you will surrender your own airline to a foreign competing airline that had suggested the liquidation of same entity. This raises more questions than answers,” Okon added.
He stressed that Arik was instrumental to Nigeria attaining US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Category 1 Safety Status and cultivated long relations with US Exim Bank, adding, “Don’t we have knowledgeable and experienced Nigerians? Haven’t we built capacity over the years?”