Nigeria’s aviation sector is again enmeshed in another controversy over an alleged plan by an African carrier, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) to take over Nigeria’s troubled domestic carrier, Arik Air.
The rumour of the take over which started March this year seems to be gradually receiving public attention presently after the news was flashed on the CNN, recently, when the Ethiopian Airlines Managing Director, Esayas WoldeMariam in an interview with the American Television Station in Addis declared the intention of the African carrier to take over Arik Air.
In his words “We have outlined our terms and conditions to the Nigerian government and we are waiting to see if they agree. We are capable and desirous of handling the airline.”
While the only truth about the whole rumour emanated from the declaration of the ET Managing Director in the CNN interview, the various relevant authorities in Nigeria have been playing the hide and seek game with the issue.
Since the rumoured plan broke out in March this year, no government official including the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika or even AMCON has spoken on the issue either to confirm or deny it.
Though there has not been any official statement as to what government intends to do with Arik Air since its takeover by AMCON, an agent of government, until Tuesday when AMCON finally summoned up courage to claim that it was not in any negotiation with Ethiopian Airlines. In a saner clime since the rumour about the takeover of Arik Air broke out, the government or any of its agencies ought to have come out to clear the air on it rather than keep mum
Already, suspicion has continued to reign with different key players accusing the government of colluding with some questionable Nigerians to handover Arik Air to Ethiopian Airlines, which is a competitor to the troubled airline.
In the words of Dr Oluyemisi Olusola, a member of Aviation Round Table (ART): “I’m not worried about the situation at all because the money owed cannot be covered by Ethiopian Airlines. Ethiopian Airlines is after the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) rights with Arik and exploiting them. The problem is those in authority refuse to face reality and keep thinking they can get away with their plan. I totally agree with you. We’re watching.
Also, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), the Managing Director of Centurion Security and Safety declared that Ethiopian Airlines was not desirous of buying the airline but only willing or wishing to manage Arik airline hence, called on the government to be weary of such motive coming from a competitor in the international routes. These are the majority views of many in the sector.
The worries being expressed by Nigerians may not be unconnected with similar actions taken by subsequent governments in the past which ended up boomeranging at the expense of the country.
Top on the list of such bad deals was the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) the Ministry of Aviation signed with over 78 foreign countries on behalf of Nigeria most of which are disadvantageous to the country and the Virgin Atlantic/Virgin Nigeria deal which later went sour.
Looking at the alarm raised by some key players over the plan to take over the Arik Air by Ethiopian Airlines, if this is actually true, the first obvious fact that may not make the deal work out is that Arik Air before now was a strong competitor to Ethiopian Airlines and many few of the strong African carriers.
Therefore, the takeover of the Nigerian carrier by Ethiopian Airlines may not bring the desire end as the sister African airline cannot love Arik Air more than itself as witnessed in the Virgin Atlantic/Virgin Nigeria deal.
Again, there is the need by the Nigerian government or AMCON to unveil components of the deal vis a vis the Nigerians behind the deal, how the deal intends to settle the accumulated debts of Arik Air and other logistics.
If there is any element of truth in the rumour, the government will do itself good by laying bare the game on the table for the sake of transparency and saving Nigerians another bad deal which may further plunge the sector particularly the domestic airline operations into another disaste