Backstory: Arik Air has prolonged issues but remained in denial

by Tolulope Omoyeni

Staff of Nigerian airline, Arik Air today staged a protest at the domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. They are joined in solidarity by members of unions in the aviation sector.

In a strike notice signed by Olayinka Abioye, General Secretary, National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), and Frances Akinjole, General Secretary, Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and the General Secretary of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Aba Ocheme, the Arik Air workers were described as “enslaved“.

The management of Arik Air owes its staff seven months worth of salaries but the protest is not just about the company’s failure to keep up with remuneration, they are also revolting against the unfair treatment of staff.

This current strike action is a result of a backlog of concerns surrounding working conditions of staff. A report published by Sahara Reporters in October 2016 has it that the Chairman of Arik Air, Joseph Aruremi-Ikhide “has been terrorizing staff and sacking them arbitrarily“.

In several accounts that were recorded, the Chairman fired staff for reasons as trivial as females braiding their hair. Mr. Aruremi-Ikhide also reportedly has spies among the staff members who pass on information (mostly hearsay) about other unsuspecting staff to him.

In the same month, four members of staff were sacked for participating in union activities in the aviation industry. This was met with a petition by one of the unions threatening that “failure on the part of your management to reinstate the union chairman will mean that labour and your management will be working at cross-purposes, which may be detrimental to your operations“.

But way beyond these internal issues, Arik Air has had a year of unimpressive service delivery trailed by customer complaints spread across all forms of media. Delayed flights, cancelled flights, persistent maltreatment of passengers etc. Just few weeks ago, luggage belonging to about 40 passengers on a London-Lagos Arik flight were delayed for almost five days after the flight had landed in Lagos. The affected passengers flocked the airport in protest as they disrupted the airline’s operations. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) intervened by issuing a directive to the airline to compensate the passengers with a sum of $150.

Following this situation, the CEO of the airline, Michael Aruremi-Ikhide and other top company officials were summoned to appear before the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) for ill-treatment of passengers.

In another controversial bout with Bi-courtney and FAAN in April 2016, Arik Air was alleged to be owing a N12.4 billion debt which caused aviation unionists to protest against the airline. Although Bi-courtney and FAAN publicly battled the ownership of the debt, management of the airline insisted that the debt claims were false.

All of these events that led to up this strike action are proof that Arik Air is an embattled company that fails to acknowledge the issues that it faces; and this is exactly how it has chosen to react to the current situation it faces as protesting staff have shut down its operations.

In response to the call for the payment of the 7-month salary owed, management in a statement has ignored the pressing demands and has instead accused unionists of using “strong-arm tactics“.

If the management of Arik Air continue to wallow in denial, then the looming disaster might be closer than anyone can imagine. An Arik collapse will be another major setback for the Nigerian aviation industry so we should all be worried.

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