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Nigeria Air: Aircraft pilot warns Tinubu of Ethiopian Airlines’ dominance



The suggestion to establish Nigeria Air as a national carrier has been strongly discouraged for the Federal Government, with the assertion that only Ethiopian Airlines would reap the rewards from such an endeavor. In an openly addressed letter to President Bola Tinubu, dated August 15, 2023, and reported by Naitrametrics, Captain Benson Ikponmwosa, an experienced pilot, cautioned against the implementation of Nigeria Air.

The warning emphasized that this initiative could lead the country into another cycle of sovereign debt, potentially yielding unfavorable outcomes.

According to him, nowhere in the world that foreigners are part of a national airline as proposed by the former Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, stressing that the idea of foreigners owning majority shares in any national airline negated the very principle of the character and identity of the national carrier. 

He, however, clarified that foreigners may be part of any private airline designated as a flag carrier, mentioning Asky Airlines in Lome, Togo as an example. 

He maintained that Nigeria Air as presently conceptualised did not meet the standard of a national carrier. 

Ikponmwosa claimed that already, a businessman from Ethiopia, Mr. Zenedeneh Negatu had promised the airline $250 million even before the commencement of operations, wondering how the airline intended to offset the bill when the Nigerian Government owned just a 5% stake in the airline, which is not paid for. 

He also explained that no one knows the value of the 46 per cent shares of the Nigerian investors, while the 49 per cent of Ethiopian was in the aircraft the East African carrier planned to supply for the project. 

  • He said: “It is not owned by Nigeria, in any shape or form, and it is only to serve a negative purpose. While their shareholding structure shows that the Nigerian Government owns 5% shares, Nigerian local investors have 46 per cent shares and almighty Ethiopian Airlines has 49% shares, the majority shareholder and the controller of the enterprise (Ethiopian Airlines) is being carefully disguised. 
  • “This is how; we are told that the 5% given to the Nigerian Government is free, gratis, never to be paid for, and coming from the hearts of the investors. I expect that somewhere, it is written, that the 5% government shares is not a board voting block of shares. 
  • “Therefore, the government would not be expected to use their 5% unpaid for shares to vote alongside the Nigerian investors in order to override Ethiopian Airlines who have 49%. 
  • “Let it be known here that the so-called experts collaborating with Ethiopian Airlines are committing treason in their attempt to see this Nigeria Air through as it is.
  • “They should stop now and retrace their steps if ignorance of certain steps taken by them is going to be used for their defence.
  • “Even in Addis Ababa, no Ethiopian citizen will do what they (Nigerians) are doing against their country in Ethiopia.” 

He alleged that Ethiopian Airlines had been obsessed with getting the Nigerian airline market in the past 25 years – passenger and cargo, pointing out that the airline remained the only carrier operating out of four or more out of the country’s airports. 

He queried the Nigerian Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) arrangement with Ethiopia, noting that if Nigeria Air was birthed, it could not fly to Addis Ababa as the route was not profitable. 

Just last week, Ethiopian Airlines reiterated its plan to commence Nigeria Air operations in October this year. 

Mesfin Tasew, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, said the firm was eager to see Nigeria Air start flying local and international routes. 

According to  Tasew, the airline would begin operations with two wide-bodied planes and six narrow-bodied aircraft. 

  • He said, “We are eager to see the airline start flying and connecting the local market to the international market” 

He also added that Ethiopian Airlines using its proven model, had an objective to enable Nigeria to have a flag carrier. 

Tasew also commented on the difficult business environment in Nigeria but expressed optimism based on the size of the Nigerian economy and the potential inherent in it.