In Pages 109, 110 and 111, IFC further gave a deft analysis of the consequences of Liquidation, some of which include:
(i) Less likelihood of strong national carrier from “survival of the fittest local strategy;
(ii) Disorderly development of air transport market: increases of financial cost from collapse of several domestic carrier;
(iii) Great likelihood of worsening safety records in Nigeria;
(iv) Increased reliance on foreign carriers, among others.
(v) Nigeria would most unlikely not develop into a regional hub.
All these warnings were ignored as the Minister, with the approval from President Obasanjo, introduced dual designation on the Lagos-London route, approved multiple entry points for foreign airlines, sacked over 1000 staff of Nigeria Airways including Pilots and Engineers, thus increasing pension liabilities, rejected, along with the MD, the British Airways generous offer to assist Nigeria Airways, pro bono, with one of its DC10s and a cash aid of £1million.
As all these played out, some sycophants alleged to President Obasanjo that his Vice, Atiku Abubakar was planning to buy Nigeria Airways through BPE and IFC and that the only way to stop him was to allow Chikwe to go on with her plans. This prompted the President to adopt the strategy of approving two contradictory Memos on same issues, one for NCP under the VP and the other for the Minister. There are at least three such Memos on record. This pitched the VP/El-Rufai against the Minister and created a conflict that led Atiku to threaten resignation as Chairman of NCP. Further to this, El-Rufai engaged Chikwe in a media war. The exchange became so embarrassing that Obasanjo officially instructed El-Rufai to stop all actions on Nigeria Airways and allow the Minister to execute her plans.
All these came on the heels of a comprehensive report by the NCP to the President in which it listed over eight actions of the Minister which undermined the smooth privatisation of Nigeria Airways amongst them; the Open Skies with USA, dual designation on the London route, aviation policy inconsistency and, multiple Ministerial Committees on Nigeria Airways. The NCP sought the President’s reversal of these actions or his approval for “immediate liquidation of Nigeria Airways as recommended by IFC and endorsed by PBE as the last resort.” But the resolved President had no respect for NCP any more and paid no heed to the complaints.
Frustrated by these developments, on March 15, 2001, IFC addressed a two-page letter to Dr. Kema Chikwe as Hon. Minister of Aviation, in which it made a four-point complaint on how the Ministry had impaired their work and concluded that “…it may be best if we simply part as friends.”
Thus, IFC withdrew and the $450,000 paid by the country for this otherwise, forward looking endeavour became a national loss. From then on, the Minister set out with her agenda of replacing Nigeria Airways. First was “Air Nigeria”, a concept “stolen” from Capt Mohammed Joji in his privatisation effort 1991-1992 as Managing Director of Nigeria Airways.
Chikwe’s Air Nigeria had two international “fraudsters” who claimed to have worked with Singapore Airline as arrowheads. They came in without a dime but were immediately handed documents of choice properties of Nigeria Airways to use as collateral to raise funds from Nigerian banks. The public outcry that visited this charade led to a Public Hearing by the Awaal Tukur- led House Committee on Aviation. In an outstanding investigation, Awaal had contacted Singapore Airline which denied ever knowing the two fraudsters. He also found out that the SPV for Air Nigeria had only one British Pound as paid capital. It was also discovered, that, guided by the Minister, the then NCAA had shamefully issued an AOC to a non-existent Air Nigeria. The Public Hearing put an end to this fraud.
Next, was the contraption called “Nigeria Global”, whose Memo was thrown out at the Valedictory Meeting of May, 2003, thanks to Ciroma, Danjuma and Atiku.
This time, the Minister had been counseled that unless it liquidated Nigeria Airways, she could not possibly float a replacement. This attempt was still-born inspite of the fact that two weeks before the general elections of 2003, the Minister had chartered a rickety wide-body aircraft, on which a sticker of “Nigeria Global” was pasted; directed NCAA to approve a technical landing for it in Lagos which it did. Then she organised the media on the day of the “flight of fraud” to announce and welcome Nigeria’s new national carrier – “Nigeria Global” on its “maiden flight”. The next day, the media was awash with the news “Enter Nigeria Global” that never would be.
Now back to the valedictory meeting. Unfortunately or fortunately, Chikwe did not return as a Minister in the second dispensation and therefore did not participate or mediate in the second phase of what she had set in motion – the plundering of Nigeria Airways properties scattered over Nigeria, West Coast and Europe.
The bazaar that followed for those who know is heart-rending. Every estate of the realm – Executive, Legislative at both Federal and State levels as well as the Bar and the Bench, the military and private businesses, churches and institutions were involved.
Properties worth N6 billion, N2 billion and N1billion were all sold below one billion Naira while properties worth over N200 million were sold off for between N50 million and N60 million. Because of the kind of people involved, the records and its ignoble history remain frozen sine die in an act of conspiratorial silence.
And so, our dear WT died. And with it died, so far, over 250 former staff waiting for yet unpaid benefits. Captains Shewu, Azikie, Okorodudu, Ekong and officers like Rindams are representatives of the pack who are resting in peace with WT. Maybe, the liquidator, Mr. Barbinghton Ashaye, who joined the departed after unleashing terror on the residences of sitting Nigeria Airways staff assisted by a detachment of MOPOL and hired Area Boys, following a go-ahead by the ruling of Justice Ada, is also where WT is resting. Who knows-given the incredible extent of God’s mercies?
Today, our nation bleeds profusely, the families of ex-staff of Nigeria Airways bleed from unpaid pension and benefits-all because of the actions of a two-some-a President and his Minister. Today, capital flight from the aviation sector is meteoric due to non-existence of a national carrier or a strong flag carrier, the expected regional hub in Lagos is nowhere near, foreign airlines are now our hope of travelling, domestic airlines have collapsed.
All these were predicted by IFC 12 years ago. Those who inflicted the nation with these snowballing calamities are all living and walking in high places. This is our country; the Nigeria of our dream.
Adieu WT, as we mourn you, 12 years after, your spirit keeps marching on as you hang on our nation’s neck like an incubus that does not go away.
Adieu, Adieu, Adieu, WT.
Former GM, Public Affair-Nigeria Airways