Nigeria Air: Flying the Flag -By Femi Amosun

Filed under: National Issues |

 

The new national carrier, Nigeria Air, announced by the Federal Government is an astonishing development and a sliver lining in the long battle to restore sanity into our economic system and national pride. Forget about the torrent of tweets full of abusive language, decent and right-thinking Nigerians should know that these abusive tweets are intended to attack, smear or destroy some of the good policies being pursued by the Federal Government. I should also add that the unintelligent tweets are based on lack of deep understand among the perpetrators, who should have been indicted for treasonable felony.

As a former founding member of the defunct Nigerian Association of Travel Agents (NATA) UK, the organisation that was formed to fight “apartheid pricing policy” whereby British Airways and Virgin Atlantic were charging Nigerian travellers more for air tickets to Nigeria. At the time, the airfare for a 12-hour flight London-Miami was £199 whilst 6-hour flight London-Lagos was £550. Nigerians were spending roughly half the time in the air but paid more than twice airfare for flights to Nigeria. The Nigerian travelling public were unfairly treated by major airlines that happen to be creaming our market routes by the virtue of the commercial gestures extended to them by our Government. So in September 2002, l led a team of NATA delegates to the Nigeria High Commission London to make formal representation and seek the backing of the Nigeria High Commission, as the official representative of FG, to advise our Government to (1) investigate airfares from London to Nigeria and the appalling treatment of Nigerian travellers (2) mandate British Airlines operating on the Nigerian routes to provide fair deal or adopt fair pricing policy for Nigerian travellers (3) advise the then Obasanjo-led Government to review the Landing Permit requirements. The meeting was followed by series of letters, press coverage and direct communication with the Nigeria High Commission, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. Whilst we were working very hard to force some of these foreign airlines to end their “apartheid pricing policy”, it was very disheartening when we discovered that a prominent member (now one of the leading Presidential aspirants for the 2019 General Election) of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo-led Government owned major shares in one of the British foreign airlines operating on the Nigerian routes. We were also disappointed by the lukewarm attitude and response from the Nigeria High Commission London.

By 2004, former President Olusegun Obasanjo liquidated the Nigeria Airways. On 28 September 2004, the Nigerian government and Virgin Group (a British wholly-owned company) signed an agreement to establish a new airline called Virgin Nigeria Airways, which was partially structured to act as the national flag carrier of Nigeria. Perhaps the Government of that era did not understand the mechanics of business or utter ignorance and sheer impunity. We witnessed how Virgin Nigeria was in power scrimmage with the Ministry of Transportation, and Virgin Group decided to review “whether it is appropriate that the Virgin brand should remain linked to Virgin Nigeria” (Financial Times, London). In the end, Virgin Group pulled out of the over-celebrated hype of the Joint venture. We also witnessed the ill-treatment and dismissal of employees without a token of civility. Do you think such appalling behaviour would be tolerated anywhere in the world? In retrospect, we had a Minister of Aviation in post that did absolutely nothing to rescue the situation. Sadly, we see this same former Minister of Aviation now proclaimed himself as the “Peoples’ Champion”. This shameful development has given more impetus to many foreign Airlines to continue to cream our market with sheer arrogance and ill-treatment of Nigerian travellers.

Today the inherent exploitation of Nigeria remains unchallenged and unabated. Sixteen years on, all the problems we raised with the Nigeria High Commission continue to manifest because successive governments failed to act proportionately. Even when they attempted to address the situation, it was a wrong diagnosis and prescription for an acute ailment. Consequently, Nigerians continue to pay high premium for air travel in sharp contrast to other nationals. Isn’t that the highest level of grotesque inequality rejoicing in impunity?  I often wonder if our country would ever break away from the historical economic slavery imposed upon us. So floating a new National Airline should be a welcome development. I understand that only well-informed and civilized minds would appreciate such a laudable Project like floating a National Airline, but l do take issue with some of the so-called highly-respected individuals or groups in our country who find it extremely difficult to make their point or case without resulting to abusive language and uncivil utterances. I have often argued that been highly educated or attended the best tertiary institution (home or abroad) is not a prerequisite for civil etiquette, partisanship or patriotism. Just look around you or a quick check on the social media and see the flow of inconceivable comments and level of offensive behaviour encouraged by these so-called highly-respected individuals or “elites”. Some of them are even proud to highlight their former role as Ministers turned activist.

Imagine the Nigerian Contingents onboard a foreign Airline arriving at the FIFA World Cup Tournament, other International Sporting event, International Conferences, Trade Policy-related meetings etcetera. Do you actually think the host country and others will not notice the negative impact of such uncharacteristic national gesture?

The business case and economic raison d’êtres for floating a new national Airline are both strong and solid; suffice to say that Nigeria and Nigerians deserve a credible National Airline. This is a landmark project which could significantly improve our economy and image. It requires considerable thinking and serious work at the high level on how best to develop the new Company to deliver profitable outcomes, such as increasing the competitiveness of our nation; generating additional national income; providing and creating investment opportunities for our citizens. The process compels policymakers to strike a balance between national requirements or interests and international scope for economic gains or opportunities.

I should also accentuate that in the quest to attract investors, the Federal Government should discourage foreign investment into the new national Airline otherwise the Project will be meaningless. I have detailed above how major foreign-owned Airlines continue to cream our market and cart away staggering amounts of money from our economy. These colossal amounts could have been utilized to further develop our national economy. Look at the telecommunications industry, largely dominated by foreign-owned companies. Look at the energy/electricity industry, largely controlled by foreign-owned companies. Look at other major industries, largely managed by foreign-owned companies. And you wonder why Nigeria is so far behind other developing nations, it is simply because of the unprecedented number of foreign investors allowed by government to control major industries. Investors only invest where they can make more money. The Federal Government should encourage local investors and move away from the past government rigid approach of attracting foreign investors, who by definition, may not genuinely have the interest of Nigeria at heart.

In developing the new National Airline, the Federal Government should pay more attention to equitable bilateral trade agreement and profitable negotiations with technical partners. It is also imperative to ensure that well-trained Nigerians are employed by the new national carrier. Can you imagine British Airways or Virgin Atlantic employing Nigerians to work as Air hostesses on their flights to Nigerian? It is almost impossible. Do you think Air France will allow Nigerian citizens to work as Air hostesses on their flight, even though to Nigerian routes? The honest answer is no. So why should we inadvertently be taking our jobs abroad and then lament about the high level of unemployment among our youths.

The proposed new National Airline, undoubtedly, would be of huge economic benefit to our people and a credible basis for adding value to our international image. If successfully launched, and well-managed thereafter, the new National Airline could be used to promote tourism, boost GNP, substantial gain from technological development and advanced expertise, and create domestic employment, training and development.

Femi Amosun is a Business Adviser and founder of NIFOM Consulting (UK), which provides high-quality managerial, marketing and financial management know-how to entrepreneurs, SMEs and Public sector organizations. He is a long-standing advocate of National Airline, which could bring huge economic benefits to our country. E: [email protected]

 

Comments

comments

2 Responses to Nigeria Air: Flying the Flag -By Femi Amosun

  1. I really enjoyed reading this piece written by Dr.Femi Amosun, his knowledge on the subject matter is incredible and breathtaking. Why is it that we don’t have people like him managing our national resources? Instead we only have bunch of people who are clueless. Until we rectify the situation Nigerians will continue to pay the price.

    A Abby
    July 28, 2018 at 11:13 am

  2. As a former employee of Virgin Nigeria (later changed its name to Air Nigeria) l remember the appalling and shameful way we were treated by the company whilst our company did nothing to help. I agree with the author, we need to get our house in order and not be allowing all these foreign companies to be taking advantage of us. Nice Article.

    A Jones
    August 6, 2018 at 12:48 pm