Home Interview from the past Interview from the past: Nigeria Airways: ‘President Obasanjo lied’
Interview from the past - February 20, 2024

Interview from the past: Nigeria Airways: ‘President Obasanjo lied’

Former Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), Mr. Femi Ogunleye, in an  interview on Inside Magazine, page 43, published in March 22nd, 2004, says the decision to liquidate the national carrier was wrong and counters President Obasanjo’s charge that he left 32 aircraft in its fleet when he left office as military head of state.

How do you regard the government’s decision to liquidate Nigeria Airways?

In this country, there are so many things I can described as selective packaging. People have biasedly selected what they want to understand over Nigeria Airways problem and it is so unfortunate. I have personally not seen the liquidation thing from any reasonable point. How can liquidation be the best they should do for Nigeria Airways?

If the airline owes millions to creditors worldwide, and because of that you are liquidating it, is the option going to stop us from paying those we owe? One way or the other they will still have to pay them their money. When the previous minister was talking about the issue, she said, she was going to liquidates so as to pre-empt creditors from taking over Nigeria Airways. To me, this is absolute nonsense. Many of my type who has worked for the airline believe very strongly that the government is yielding to dumb information. There is no better information than the one from those who have worked or who are still working for the airline, who know exactly what was happening. But it appears that everybody is now showing interest according to his or her own personal interest.

As an insider, what are the major problems of NAL?

The problems are in many folds. The major of these problems are that the government, right from the start did not know what it wanted from the airline business in this country. From inception, there has not been any feasibility study, there was nothing, any policy, as to whether the airline should be a commercial enterprise or it should just be carrying on with public service. They just put people from left and right, civil servants were brought in and that is how it went on. And they will ask them to travel, giving them warrant without paying and the debt kept accumulating.

They brought the aircraft of the airline on credit. Government say they would pay, in fact, some of the so called   historical debt still relates to aircrafts that were brought, sold and rested. Each time President Olusegun Obasanjo says that he left over thirty aircrafts in Nigeria Airways when he left as military head of state in 1979. I kept asking whether he was the one that brought these invisible aircraft or when do he brought it. President Obasanjo don’t buy any aircraft for the airline. It is unfortunate that nobody has ever asked him a question on how the claimed number of aircraft that were acquired. Who told him that Nigeria Airways ever had such number of aircrafts in the history of Nigeria, when he was leaving office? The President has not also told the country why five weeks to his leaving office as the military Head of State, he handled over Nigeria Airways management to KLM, a foreign carrier. How can a military head of state sell a national carrier to a foreign airline at a time a civilian government was coming? Already, NAL has been competing seriously with KLM on some routes at that time and we’ve been beating them to it.  Then somebody now brought them to come and manage our national carrier without any neither consultation nor discussion in the first place.  I as a PRO of the airline couldn’t explain to the public what KLM was and these were not in the picture. And so KLM came and had the opportunity of doing what they wanted to do. They mismanaged NAL, spending money more than was available and by so doing, we entered more debt than the Nigerian management would have done.

But there was an Nwazota panel report, which was released recently in which many past managing directors were indicted?

The panel was a disaster.  I am saying this authoritatively. Perhaps, government mean well initially. But for it to have put so much money in the panel, one expects that Nigerians should know how much money was spent. There is no doubt about that. We want government to call people out to explain how they spent money but what the government did was to first of all establish a panel headed by an Air Commodore Jack, an Air Force man. And what happened to the report? Apparently, it must be based on that report it made them to institute the so-called judicial commission. And whom do they ask to come and give evidence? Even those that were indicted, none of them was confronted with the allegations. Finally, their report made nonsense of the whole exercise. I also believe very strongly that the final report was very political and that’s why government has not said a word on the matter.   Government don’t officially released even the report we hear about because they must have seen many shortcoming in the thing. For instance, how can you say a managing director sold an aircraft? Can any managing director anywhere in the world sell an aircraft that belong to government without the consent of government?  Government must have met with the person and discussed that.

Looking at the new airline to replace Nigeria Airways, that’s the Nigeria Eagle Airways. Many people have kicked against the move and what is your opinion?

Many people thought the government is right by taking that decision. Government thought that we don’t know what they know. I know what I know and what I know is that the due process, by my own understanding is not followed before they selected whoever they considered as the right person or right corporate body to take share in the airline.  They said it was advertised and people don’t come. But the point we are making here is that what was the time frame given to the people? They said seven days. Can you imagined that?

Talking about strategic investor, technical partner, do you think South Africa Airways who finally won the bid have what it takes to be a core investor in the deal? 

I don’t believe so. The only thing is that maybe, for political reason, they have been so blind folded by the fact that they want South Africa Airways by means. So the foreign airline can have a larger share of our economy. Because it is only in the airline business alone, also in telecommunication, banking, they have been favoured to eat deep into our economy. In Nigerian Eagle project, the federal government said they have agreed to give away 30% share. The bank they chose where the money would be deposited is Stanbic bank and it is South Africa bank. So what are you saying? It is just like you are colonizing yourself to South Africa after Britain.

 

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