Amaechi, Sirika end Buhari’s first term with N47bn Nigeria Air controversy
More annoying and conflicting happenstances unfolded at the Ministry of Transportation and its aviation arm last hours of the life and time of the first term of President Muhammadu Buhari’s just ended first term.
First was the first ever revelation by the lead Minister of Transportation and former Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Mr Rotimi Chibike Amaechi, who disclosed in his valedictory press conference that divisions amongst members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) members played out as the last straw that brought the camel’s back in last year’s solo effort by the Minister of State for Aviation to float a national carrier christened Nigeria Air.
Second was another comment by the Amaechi that the Federal Government has approved about N2.5bn for the takeoff of Lagos-Calabar rail project that will connect Lagos, Benin, Asaba, Onitsha-Owerri-Umuahia-Uyo and terminates at Calabar which was captured in 2018 budget but never received mention until the very last ministerial press briefing.
The fourth controversy was the spontaneous reaction of citizens from all the connecting states who saw the Minister’s announcement as his last political promise to end his leadership at the ministry. Many respondents to the mention argued that government’s fund approval is far distant from the true release as many contracts had over the years died under approval status.
Then, the fifth controversy which may end up being an issue that will continue to create lasting political misunderstanding was the instant response of the Minister of State for Aviation, Capt. Hadi Sirika who lashed back at Amaechi saying there was no division amongst FEC members on Nigeria Air.
Besides, there had the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who once revealed to Nigerians while at a function at Lagos Airport that what actually killed the Nigeria Air scheme was the discovery by FEC that earlier foreign investors’ who had expressed interests are no longer coming forward.
However, continuing in his controversial defence, Sirika told Nigerians before leaving Office yesterday that the Federal Government has approved N47.43bn for the Nigeria Air project in the 2019 budget.
He went further to lash back at the press, claiming that Amaechi was misquoted in the media reports that the Federal Executive Council was divided over the mode of implementation of the national carrier project.
In a statement issued by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Affairs, James Odaudu, and made available to journalists, Sirika averred that “President Muhammadu Buhari directed that the viability gap funding for the project be provided for in the 2019 Appropriation which the National Assembly had graciously done.”
Business Hilights recalls that in November last year, Sirika had told stakeholders at an aviation forum that a viability gap funding (VGF) of $155m (N47.43bn at the official exchange rate of N306 to a dollar) was required for the Nigeria Air project.
A VGF is a grant that is made available to finance the ongoing operations or future development of a project that is not currently provided by cash, equity or debt, but projects that mostly enjoy such kind of funds are the ones with longer gestation periods.
While insisting that there was never a time, FEC sounded divided on Nigeria Air floating, Sirika explained that the VGF was in line with the outline business case that would enable the airline to start operations before the introduction of private equity funds.
Trouble had started on the scheme when Sirika announced in July that Nigeria Air would commence operation before the end of 2018. Without much ado, he jetted out to London on his own to unveil just name and logo of non-existent national carrier to global investors at the London Air Show only to announce to Nigerians via a tweet that the project is no more feasible upon the huge expenses so far made.
Sirika’s tweet in September 2018 read as follows: “I regret to announce that the Federal Executive Council has taken the tough decision to suspend the national carrier project in the interim. All commitments due will be honoured. We thank the public for the support as always.”