Prospects As Olumide Pilots National Carrier

Nigeria has tried unsuccessfully to set up a national airline. At a point, it looked like another exercise in futility, but the project is presently sounding realistic with Capt. Dapo Olumide as interim Managing Director of the much-awaited national carrier writes WOLE SHADARE

 

The promise

During electioneering in 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari as the candidate of the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) promised to bequeath to Nigeria a national airline. In fact, the campaign promise among other lofty ideas was one of the reasons he beat his opponent, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

That optimism came as a result of the nostalgia of Nigeria Airways which was inexplicably liquidated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in what many said was ill-advised. They were shocked that the government took a ‘bad’ decision that finally nailed the coffin of the then-national carrier.

They suggested that there were better options the government would have taken to save a national heritage.
The whole idea was to kill the airline by setting up Virgin Nigeria, which was not only controversially set up but one that smacked of fraud.

 

Capt. Dapo Olumide

Stumbling block

The first attempt to set up Nigeria Air met with a brick wall despite several millions of Naira spent to prepare the project for take-off when the Federal Government for reasons best known to it suspended the project.

Opponents of the project, particularly domestic airline operators, welcomed the idea both for selfish and altruistic reasons with many backing up their claims depending on the position they take. While some saw it as a wasted venture and a drain on the lean purse of the government, others itemised the benefits to be derived from the project.

It sounded as if the project was never going to materialise considering the scheming against the project by some people.

Undaunted, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, led by the Ministry of Aviation vigorously pursued the project which would likely be one of his greatest achievements if they pull through the project which is looking very achievable.

Sirika looks more determined to match his words with actions. He looks committed to delivering on this huge project and has not hidden his determination to achieve this.

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Pessimism

Not even the opening of bids for prospective bidders for the project brought an assurance that the project was on course. The buzz around what people described as a wonderful idea if the government pulled it through waned considerably.

This was not helped by the assumption that it may end up as another failed project considering the fact that the governments before now had tried unsuccessfully to give the country a national airline, which has divided opinion among those who believe in the idea and others who see it as an unprofitable venture.

Early this month, Sirika gave a hint that the Federal Government would issue a Requests-for-Proposal for the establishment of Nigeria Air next week.

A request for proposal is the process of requesting the bids to evaluate the feasibility, financial health, and bidders’ abilities to undertake a specific project.

The Minister said the government would issue requests for proposals to intending investors on March 8, 2022.

All kinds of memes surfaced on social media including a gangway of an aircraft decked in national colours with passengers standing on the gangway, waiting for an imaginary aircraft. It was a caricature that it was another white elephant project, an adjective that depicts how many projects are never completed after millions/ billions of naira may have been committed to a project.

It is a euphemism for corruption and a deliberate ploy to siphon public funds for a project that was not planned to be done in the first place.

Capt. Olumide gets the nod

The news two weeks ago that one of the brightest minds in the aviation industry in Nigeria today, Capt Dapo Olumide, had been appointed as the Chief Operating Officer of the airline had rekindled hope that the Federal Government truly mean business.

His responsibility is to push and pull through the processes and procedures necessary for the take-off of the new airline.

These include registration of the airline, acquisition of an Air Operating Certificate – AOC, acquisition of offices, engagement of personnel, and acquisition and choice of aircraft for the new airline.

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For Olumide to have accepted the appointment, he must have been convinced about it because the former Managing Director of Aero Contractors and Virgin Nigeria/Nigerian Eagle is a very meticulous and principled technocrat.

One of the aircraft of liquidated Nigeria Airways

Track record

Capt. Olumide holds a Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Embryridle Aeronautics University, Florida, USA, along with Professional qualifications in Airline Operations,

For repositioning Virgin Nigeria Airways into Nigerian Eagle Airlines, he received accolades from aviation industry players and assessors.

He was specifically applauded for revamping Virgin Nigeria and turning around the fortunes of the airline through his change management style that birthed Nigerian Eagle Airlines as a brand.

He, however, resigned from the two companies, Aero Contractors and Virin Nigeria/Nigeria Eagle he helped to nurture when a conflict of interest from the owners was detrimental to the reasons for setting up the carriers.

Wider reach

The appointment of Olumide to midwife the airline would help him draw from his rich contacts from major aviation consultants like Nick Fadugba, aircraft lessors among groups that can assist the carriers to stabilize much later.

Fadugba who was a former Secretary-General of African Airlines Association (AFRA) and currently the Chairperson of African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) was very helpful when Sir Richard Brandson pulled Virgin Atlantic out of controversial Virgin Nigeria, further exposing the soft underbelly of the airline without a technical partner.

Worried about what was going to befall a new carrier out of Virgin Nigeria that he inherited, Olumide quickly reached out to Fadugba, who contacted Ato Girma Wake, who was the Group Managing Director of Ethiopian Airlines at the time, to save Nigerian Eagle from a premature extinction of withdrawal of the airline’s Air Operator Certificate (AOC).

 

Ato Girma Wake

Ethiopian Airlines as savior

Our correspondent who was part of a two-man media team to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a rigorous meeting to save the carrier, saw how Fadugba and Olumide battled to convince Girma Wake for help before the deal sailed through.

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It was jubilation right inside the Ethiopian Airline’s CEO boardroom at about 2 am when the deal was brokered after more than two days of intensive negotiation.

Fadugba was instrumental to the huge momentum gained by Nigeria Eagle before businessman, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, eventually sold the airline. Olumide resigned his appointment when he saw the direction the carrier was headed under Ibrahim.

The debate

The debate for a national carrier for Nigeria will never go away depending on the side or position one takes. It is a position of naysayers and optimists. It is the most contentious debate that no one will ever win until the Federal Government matches its words with action.

While the naysayers may have a point on why Nigeria should not float a national carrier, there are still sound reasons why Nigeria should float one. Most of the reasons canvassed against its creation are rooted in the failures of defunct Nigeria Airways.

Nigeria Airways was liquidated in 2003 for many reasons, including mismanagement, corruption, and a spate of plane crashes from the 80s.

Since the disappearance of the national carrier from aviation space, Nigeria has suffered a loss of around $2.5 billion in capital flight.

Despite this, those against the creation of a new national carrier believe that it is not a logical step for the aviation industry in Nigeria.

To highlight the benefits of a national carrier, the Minister stated that it was necessary as an economic necessity for the country with the size of the population, the vantage geographical location, and other natural factors.

 

One of Nigeria Airways’ aircraft at a graveyard

Last line

It is true that the Ministry is racing against time to birth the new airline. Not a few are waiting to see the impact of Olumide on the new carrier. One thing is certain, Olumide’s engagement has brought renewed hope to a project that many considered another white elephant project.

Wole Shadare