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The gathering of friends and colleagues in Lagos to honour one of their own, Capt. Bob Hayes, credited to be Nigeria’s first pilot for his immense contribution to aviation development in Nigeria brought back sad memories of the liquidation of Nigeria Airways.
Speaking to Aviation Metric, the legendary pilot said it was a huge mistake the authorities made to have liquidated the airline. The carrier was liquidated by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and since the death of the carrier in 2003, not a few had spoken glowingly of the airline in a manner that draws tears from some of the ex-workers.
Emotions ran high on Saturday as accomplished Nigerians such as the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, a former Managing Director of Nigeria Airways and a former Minister of Aviation, Air Vice Marshal Anthony Okpere (Rtd), former Minister of Aviation, Capt. Benoni Briggs, Founder of Arik Airlines, Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide, Mr. Chris Azu-Aligbe among others at “An Evening in Honour of First Nigerian Pilot” to celebrate the iconic and legendary Capt Bob Hayes (OON) eulogized him for the decades of work he put into the sector.
While looking beyond the liquidated Nigeria Airways, Capt. Hayes however threw his weight behind the floating of Nigeria Air, saying it is commendable, explaining that they were very sad when the country lost Nigeria Airways.
“The industry has made a lot of progress and I am glad I was part of it in the early days ofcourse I have continued to monitor the progress of the industry and hopefully better days are coming in the industry”.
He stated that most countries in Africa have national carriers, adding, “I think it is about time. Nigeria, the biggest country in black Africa deserves to have a national carrier”.
“We were very sad indeed when we lost Nigeria Airways. Now that the country has proposed to set up a new airline, I think this is one of the best things that has happened to the country”.
“Most countries in Africa have national carriers and I think it is about time, Nigeria, the biggest black African country takes its pride in the comity of nations. Nigeria deserves it and they are looking forward to that”.
A former Managing Director of Nigeria Airways and former Minister of Aviation, Air Vice-Marshal Anthony Okpere (Rtd) lamented that Nigeria Airways should not have been allowed to die, buttressing his claim with the way Kenya Airways which was in a similarly precarious situation as the liquidated national carrier was navigated out of its difficult situation.
He said, “I recall one evening when they decided to wind down Nigeria Airways. I sat with the Late Real Admiral Aikhomu in his house that day and I saw the undertaker, Mr. Babington Ashaye and they were bulldozing one house in GRA here that was sold off with the Capt’s things inside the house.
“Meanwhile, that captain was out on a flight on a national assignment so to say. People that had money had to buy his house not thinking of his job or the services that man was rendering. If the will was there, Nigeria Airways should not have died.
“Good, they had a probe called the Nwazota panel. They indicted many Nigerians that brought Nigeria Airways to its knees. I was equally probed. I worked there quite alright but I beat my chest that my hands are clean. I Thank God that in the midst of aviators, I carry my head up high. When Nigeria Airways was sold off, all the workers were left in the lurch. A lot of them died even before President Buhari came and decided to pay them. I believe that it was wrong”.
He disclosed that they had a plan for Nigeria Airways, saying in 1987, they wanted to concentrate on partnerships with big European carriers like Air France and Lufthansa to carry the Nigerian flag everywhere they went and from there build up the carrier for sustainability.
“What Kenya Airways was doing then we wanted to start it before them but the will was not there to continue. The vision was killed
Okpere who was the pioneer Minister of Aviation when aviation was separated from the Ministry of Transport was a little bit hesitant to speak on Nigeria Air saying they were not carried along about the whole plan and that he had little knowledge about the whole project, however, spoke on the timing of the project.
“Now that they are starting a new one; it has been on for so many years, the details are not known, what is going to happen, I don’t know meanwhile, this administration winds up in March. The moment the elections are over, the administration’s lifespan is over. What is the assurance that the people coming in will continue with the project.”
“What briefing have they given to everybody in the aviation industry? Has the country been carried along? Who are we partnering with? Yes, Ethiopian Airlines are a giant, everybody knows them but everybody needs to know what is going on.
“Take for example the new terminal they built that cannot take bigger airplanes. I refused to find out what was wrong and refused to ask for details because it was absolutely wrong to have gone into such a project without proper planning. It is like one step forward, two steps backward. We waste money too much”.
“I was a Minister of Aviation in this country, at least, I should be able to give you facts and figures but who cares about us, some of us that have retired. We have manpower but it is wasted”.