Nigerians love football. And that is undoubtedly evident in the torrents of emotions and sentiments the beautiful game of football elicits in the people. Apart from the thrills, frills, palpable tension, and pure bliss associated with competitive football games, whether by national teams (foreign or local), or those by European elite league clubs, Nigerians have always shown fanatical interest, going by the hilarious banters and exhilarating analyses that make football to appear to be more than a game but an enthralling love affair to Nigerians.
That’s why many have opined that the fascinating game of football is a seeming unifying factor in Nigeria, that breaks every existing barrier of social, ethnic, religious and political dichotomies in the nation.
Apart from football, some recent developments in the nation have also apparently thrown up other factors and sentiments that are increasingly bringing Nigerians a unifying voice: First is the growing awareness and expectations in a democracy that questions the quality of governance and also for demand for democratic accountability.
The second is the palpable anger, frustration and disillusionment in the land, as a result of obvious distrust of government that hinges on dissatisfaction with the integrity and commitment of successive governments’ service delivery, which has continued to bruise the sensibility of the people. This could significantly be referenced by the #EndSARS crisis that engulfed the nation with multidimensional expressions across Nigeria in 2020.
Such unifying sentiments, understandably, is what is playing out with the controversy surrounding the recent unveiling of the national carrier, Nigeria Air, in May 2023 as part of the last official activities of former Aviation Minister Senator Hadi Sirika.
The controversy ignited a national outrage, justifiably because of the conflicting and sometimes, sensational information and opinions expressed from within and outside the Aviation industry.
For instance, many people have questioned the integrity of the process leading to the setting up of the airline and expressed concerns over whether Nigeria would get commensurate value in the investment in terms of desired improvement of service delivery to the people as against the current less -than -satisfactory services by existing airlines; and also in terms of favourable return on investment, given the huge resources being channeled to the enterprise by the core investors. Senator Sirika had said that the federal government will only retain 5% shares in Nigeria Air.
While some interests, such as the former House of Reps Committee Chairman on Aviation, Honourable Pharmacist Nnolim Nnaji have dismissed the whole arrangement as fraud, others such as the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), claimed that Nigeria Air, because of its arrangements with the preferred technical partner, Ethiopian Airlines, would stifle the existing local airlines.
Even the Chairman of Air Peace, a prominent member of the AON, Allen Onyema, had also queried the transparency of the shareholding and had gone further to call on President Bola Tinubu to disband Nigeria Air calling it a charade.
But former Aviation Minister Sirika had argued that the setting up of Nigeria Air was to improve aviation services in Nigeria, by offering premium service delivery that would engender healthy competition in the interest of aviation customers in Nigeria, riding on the tested and trusted capacity and capabilities associated with the technical partners, Ethiopian Airlines. He had also in an interview on ARISE TV, alleged that the former Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, may have taken that route of calling Nigeria Air a fraud because he was denied 5% equity of the airline, which he requested through the back door.
Senator Sirika had also revealed that despite the various huge amounts of money being bandied about as money spent on Nigeria Air, only the sum of N3BN was released to the ministry and that at the time he left office last month, the money had not been totally expended.
Close observation has shown that one fact that runs in all the diverse perspectives on this Nigeria Air situation is that, Nigerians, irrespective of their current divided perceptions, are united in the opinion that the nation needs a reliable national carrier that would bring succour to air travelers.
The question then is, are there information gaps that gave room to the current negative sentiments against Nigeria Air? Yes, in my opinion. Are there some grey areas in the process or execution of the agenda that could benefit from improved corporate governance and purposeful rejigging? Absolutely possible, I must say. And that improvement with a few corrections, here and there, ought to be the objective of every well-meaning Nigerian and not the self-serving demand to disband the airline, by a few people with a vested interest.
We mustn’t and shouldn’t throw away the proverbial baby with the dirty bath water because of the interest of a few, which a development civil society group the Generation Next Collective (GNC), in their recent statement, had said was only motivated by “Profiteering tendencies and dark conspiracies that do not put to account, the interest of the people or the collective prosperity of the nation.”
The GNC had added that other operators shouldn’t fret about competition with Nigeria Air, adding that “Nigeria Air should be given the chance to either prove us wrong or right, rather than the inexplicable attempt to kill it with misleading narratives. Competition is the tonic for good service delivery. And we should encourage that for the good of the people.”
It is therefore imperative that Nigeria Air should be protected and strengthened to meet the core objective of setting it up as referenced earlier, to serve the interest of Nigerians and other passengers alike. It will also be a source of pride to all Nigerians as the national carriers as it is applicable to other great nations all over the world, to their respective citizens.
With the proven capacity of its technical partners, Ethiopian Airlines, Nigeria Air would most likely offer Nigerians and other passengers a cheaper and more reliable flight alternative.
Beyond that, with the setting up of Nigeria Air, Nigeria will also be able to fully utilize the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) it signed with other countries. And it is important that those calling for the disbandment of the airline on account of its business relationship with Ethiopian Airlines and other sentiments should also be reminded of the implications of such, given the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFCTA), which Nigeria is a signatory to.
It is my view that at the end of the day Nigeria Air will be a win-win situation for all.
Akpan, a public servant, wrote from Uyo.