Former Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika Sunday revealed a damning request made by the former Chairman, of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnaji Nnolim who branded the launch of Nigeria Air as fraud by demanding five percent shares of the carrier which was rejected flatly by him.
The Ex-Minister said he had evidence to show that the lawmaker made such a shocking request to him. He said his rejection to part with 5% to an individual possibly drew the ire of the committee by rushing to brand the project a fraud after over six stakeholders’ meetings that had the inputs of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation and the airlines.
.Sirika also disclosed that the airlines spearheaded by Air Peace and United Nigeria Airlines approached him, and begged him to truncate the project because of the fear that Nigeria Air could erode their market.
During a hearing by the House of Representatives, the Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, declared the launch of Nigeria Air a fraud.
However, speaking when he appeared on ARISE TV on Sunday, Sirika said the lawmaker approached him and asked for five percent shares of the airline for “him and his people”.
“On the issue of Hon Nnaji who called Nigeria Air launch a fraud, I will respond now. I will say exactly what I told him in private when we spoke.”
Hon Nnaji asked me that I should give him 5% of Nigeria to carry him along with his people, and I said to him at that time, Honourable, a bidding process has taken place, and some people won. So, I think you should go to those people and ask for the 5 percent.”
When the programme anchor asked the former Minister to clarify if the lawmaker indeed asked for a bribe for himself and other legislators, Sirika said, “Let’s be fair, Hon Nnaji didn’t say other members. He said he wants it for himself and his people. His people could be his family, could be members and it could be leadership. I don’t know, but he insisted on 5%. I said that he should relax and approach the owners. That’s exactly what I told him.”
The former Minister also criticised Nnaji and the aviation committee for conducting what translated to a “predetermined hearing” “I was a member of the House of Reps 20 years ago, and 10 years ago, I was a Senator. I know the workings of the National Assembly. He [Nnaji] called for a public hearing. And right under the public hearing, he just turned the paper and read the riot act.”
“The practice in the National Assembly is that after hearing people and the complaints, you now go and sit down as a committee, discuss the issues, raise them, approach the whole house of reps, and take the position of the house plus leadership and come back and make your findings known, but not immediately you just read the riot Act out. It means it is predetermined.”
The Ex-Minister had severally defended the position he took and the need to have a national carrier for the nation, saying all the decisions taken were in the interest of the country. He hinted that Nigeria Air Company is known to Nigerian laws and has a shareholders structure.
Sirika equally disclosed that contrary to insinuation N85 billion had been wasted on the project said, only N3 billion had been spent.
“All of the monies earmarked for national carrier 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 is not even up to the N5 billion on top of the N85 billion they are bandying about.”
Sirika further stated that the government had all the resources and agencies to look through every single transaction made concerning the airline to find out if there is any impropriety, adding that he is not losing any sleep about the noise generated by the carrier’s setup
“What was budgeted does not mean it has been released and if released, it is not all that is utilized by the time I exited. Again, there is no contract given in Nigeria Air, all the monies spent on consultancy services, transaction advisory services, the office in Abuja, travels and salaries finish. There is nothing else.
“Don’t worry about it, the truth will be unveiled and what they (Airlines) are doing to truncate the national carrier because, they are afraid that they will be exposed for their incapacity, and poor service and it is an opportunity for them to improve on their services and give Nigerians services they deserve.”
Sirika carpeted Air Peace, United Nigeria Airline, Max Air, and TopBrass Airlines for rushing to court to stop the project because of the fear that Nigeria Air would be conferred with certain privileges, adding that the 15 years tax exclusion of the carrier was only the imagination of the operators that went to court to stop the project.
“Perhaps, their fear is that they think that the airline will take advantage because the government has a stake in it; they feel they will be given tax-free. There is not going to be any advantage given to this airline. I personally invited every single one of them. This is the first time in Nigeria that you have a well-structured airline and clear business case not owned by one man but going to be owned by people who are professionals who know how to run airlines or business”, he added