‘Sirika shouldn’t fool Nigerians’ — group asks EFCC to probe Nigeria Air project - THE CABLE
SecureWorld and Liberty Initiative for Peace (SELIP), an anti-corruption group, says the establishment of Nigeria Air, the unveiled national carrier, was established to “perpetrate fraud and commit economic sabotage” and should be investigated.
The group, in a petition signed by Mark Adebay, executive director of SELIP, said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should probe Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation for undertaking ventures designed to benefit a few individuals and leading to the eventual collapse of aviation, a critical sector of the Nigerian economy.
In the petition addressed to Abdulrasheed Bawa, EFCC chairman, SELIP expressed its disappointment on the unveiling of an aircraft on Friday in Abuja, despite an existing court order restraining the minister from taking any action regarding the project.
Adebayo said the unveiling was a desperate act to deceive President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and the generality of Nigerians, adding that the minister imported a re-painted aircraft owned by Ethiopian Airlines and passed it off as the maiden flight belonging to Nigeria Air.
According to Adebayo, despite the court’s order at three separate injunctions, restraining the federal government from taking any step about the Nigeria Air project, “the minister in a desperate bid to cover up the monumental fraud in the deal elected to flagrantly disobey an order of a court of competent jurisdiction and produced a sham called unveiling of Nigeria Air flight last Friday.
“We are compelled to bring to your attention that the aircraft purportedly unveiled on Friday, May 26, 2023, by Minister Sirika, as the first flight of the national carrier, Nigeria Air, is still in active service of Ethiopia Airlines,” the petition reads.
“We can confirm that the aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 with the registration number ET-APL, has since left the country this weekend for Turkey according to a check on the flight radar; it only transited Nigeria for the farce of a show put up by the minister. The flight landing in the country with Ethiopia Airlines’ registration number means Nigeria Air has no Air Operator Certificate (AOC).
“No aircraft can be registered in Nigeria without the carrier having an AOC which means that the aircraft does not belong to Nigeria Air either as leased or owned equipment. So, Sirika should not be allowed to fool Nigerians. “
MINISTER MUST ACCOUNT FOR N15.9BN SPENT ON PROJECT
Speaking further, SELIP asked EFCC to make Sirika account for a whopping N15.9 billion that has been committed so far to the project by the federal government.
According to the group, the hurried unveiling shows the desperation of the minister towards covering up the misappropriation of funds and monumental fraud.
“The unveiling was a desperate attempt to justify the N15.9 billion appropriated by the federal government to Nigeria Air since 2016. The phantom project has continued to lick up budgetary provisions; N1.3 billion was allotted to it in the 2023 budget with an additional N700 million as ‘working capital’ and N200 million as consultancy fee,” the group added.
“The minister must not be allowed to hoodwink Nigerians with the ‘importation of a rented aircraft into the country and pass it off as a step to the commencement of the operation of the airline days to his exit from office. This act of fraud and economic terrorism must not be allowed to go unpunished.
“There’s no agreement with the stakeholders in Nigeria, so on what basis has a painted plane been brought in to deceive Nigerians? The lack of transparency on funding and alleged zero consideration for local players and national interest is frightening as the proposed shareholders’ agreement which is yet to be signed, reserves all executive directors positions for the Ethiopians with Nigerians as deputies.”
SELIP also urged the anti-graft agency to probe the 3 percent of the total shares allocated to Fairfax Limited which was appointed as the transaction adviser to the project.
“This company will also be paid millions of dollars monthly and will be in charge of procurement for Nigeria Air. There is overwhelming evidence that Sirika has a substantial interest in Fairfax Nigeria Limited albeit by proxies, and one of the most curious things is why a firm incorporated in March 2021 without robust experience in the aviation industry will be factored into such a monumental project,” the group said.
“Please, use your good office to probe the perpetration of conflict of interest and grand fraud against the Nigerian people so that sanity will be restored in that sector and cause a rebound in the confidence of investors in the industry. “
SELIP, however, said there could be a huge implication of the project as it could undermine the efforts of the incoming administration.
It also asked the EFCC to save the Nigeria Aviation Industry (NAI) from an impending doom and make the promoters of the phantom deal face the full wrath of the law.