It’s not every time that a week as terribly confusing as the last comes along. This board has struggled to make sense of exactly what just happened in the aviation sector – the irrascible Arik airline at its centre – and, frankly, we have failed.
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Aviation chaired by Hope Uzodinma, recommended that the FG makes Arik Nigeria’s flag carrier following the demise of Air Nigeria. 24 hours later, all Arik’s flight operations were grounded.
Like young people say: Wait, what?!
Things happened very fast – labour unions went on strike to disrupt Arik’s operations, and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) accused the airline of owing it N7billion and $44,000.
Arik – a business concern not averse to a street-fight with anyone, including a 20-something year old blogger searching for his iPad – immediately kicked back. It accused the Hon. Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi of being behind its travails because it turned down her demand for a 5 percent equity stake in the company. The minister promptly denied, describing Arik’s allegations as “absurd, malicious and utterly laughable,” wondering why she would want a stake in an airline that has a crippling N85.4billion debt overhang.
That same day, the CBN released a list of bank debtors who were thenceforth banned from obtaining loans from commercial banks in the country until they pay their debts – and, of course, Arik’s name was there.
But by Saturday, just as suddenly as it begun, the war was over. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, had called a ‘family’ meeting (in PDP lingo) where the Minister and Arik officials sat down and settled their differences. Coincidentally, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, who recommended Arik for national carrier, was also present in that meeting.
Now, we know that Nigeria cannot afford another airline going down – and, sadly, we need Arik at least as much as it needs this market. Yet, the way this issue was ‘settled’ behind closed doors is worrying – and endlessly disrespectful to the Nigerian public.
Arik made weighty allegations against the minister. It is insulting to Nigerians for Mr. Anyim to smile to the cameras and say “all accusations between both parties have been vitiated.” Again, wait, what?!
No, nothing is here vitiated. A minister has just been accused of egregrious corruption. She must be investigated and if found guilty, she must be fired, and then prosecuted. We know this is a country where the police set about a ludicrous battle to find bribe monies when government officials are accused, but at least, humour us, dear Nigerian government – pretend to do the right thing.
It is particularly important that Nigerians know the truth about this because recently this same minister reinstated the license of another troubled airline, Dana, before investigations into their possible role in the air mishap which claimed over 150 lives this year had been concluded. Most Nigerians felt the move was premature, but she insisted that the suspension was a “mistake.” Investigating the Arik allegation would help ascertain if perhaps a similar deal was struck with Dana before they got their license back.
Nothing is of course confirmed, but plenty is suspicious. None among Anyim Pius Anyim, Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi or Arik Air has the powers to vitiate such a weighty allegation. That fact must be made clear.
It is not just about Oduah. It is also about Arik. If as the minister claimed, the allegations by Arik were false, then Nigerians also deserve to know the kind of company Arik is. What sort of legitimate business resorts to such devious blackmail to explain away its shortcomings?
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, at the least, needs to invite the minister, as well as the Arik Managing Director for questioning. There must be a proper investigation of the matter before any closure can become acceptable.
Of course, we probably are just wasting our time here. It is likely that it’s all over now. Case closed, accusations forgotten, life goes on; like the Farouk Lawan-Femi Otedola accusation game earlier this year.
But if that is the case, and Anyim and his gang choose to handle such a delicate matter like they would the dirt that is the People’s Democratic Party, this becomes another compelling piece of evidence that the method of this government is simply madness.