Who’ll invest in Nigeria Air after Richard Branson’s experience?

FG unveils new national carrier, Nigeria Air in London 

As widely publicised and anticipated the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika last week unveiled the name and logo of the new national carrier, Nigeria Air. The unveiling was done at the 2018 Farnborough Airshow hosted by the United Kingdom. Understandably the choice of the location for the unveiling is strategic in that the Farnborough Airshow is one the biggest air shows in the world and perhaps one of the most anticipated events in the aviation industry. To that extent, the venue guarantees the presence of highly important personalities in the aviation industry worldwide. With 1,500 exhibitors and about 100,000 trade visitors, Farnborough Airshow remains the biggest gathering of top players in the industry. In essence the minister chose to unveil the new national carrier as a strategy to attract possible investors, at least that is what we are made to believe. Good move but replete with too many uncertainties. It is noteworthy of mention that the audience at the unveiling ceremony had more Nigerians and only a few non-Nigerians. In other words, it was essentially a Nigerian event, which defeats the significance of unveiling what is meant to be an exhibition to attract investors.

Whilst the minister intensifies effort to attract investors to aid the bid to acquire an obviously absent sense of national pride, it is only realistic for us to forget about British investment. And it will be disingenuous if the government really thinks there is a possibility of attracting British investors to support the planned national carrier aspirations after all that happened with Richard Branson. The story of how the famous British investor and owner of Virgin Group came to Nigeria under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the unwholesome manner he was chased out has been well documented. The attendant negative image the singular act brought to Nigeria is loud in the public domain and there is no need recounting that event. In describing the event, Branson said, “To my utter dismay, certain authorities in Nigeria have chosen to ignore our contract, sending in heavies a few months ago to smash up our lounge with sledgehammers. The behaviour of the authorities was similar to the way the Mafioso behaved in the U.S. in the 1930s. If Virgin Nigeria can be treated in this way, can any company in the world seriously consider investing in Nigeria in the future?”

The argument from the side of government and its sympathisers was that the deal with Branson was unfavourable to Nigeria. But the fact remains that our nation signed an agreement that should have been honoured or renegotiated. And since that discreditable saga we have not shown our seriousness as a country to engage in long term international business dealings. We have had at least two attempts at launching a national carrier since the exit of Virgin, but none has been successful. The question we should ask is this: who is that serious investor that will pump money into an endeavour with a nation that has no regards for the sanctity of contractual agreements?

There are reports that the government is currently talking to Ethiopian Airline and Qatar Airline as major investors. And in anticipation of these equity investments the government will bear the preliminary cost of the airline, which will be $300 million. This is a clear signal that something is not entirely right with our approach. This government has been evangelising the notion of a national carrier since inception yet a name and logo are all it could unveil with no investor. But the government wants Nigerians to believe that it is a fully private sector driven and the government will only own 5% equity. It is high time we stopped conning ourselves and face the reality of the moment. The Nigerian government must reappraise its priorities and pay attention to the things that matter. Dissipating energy on the wrong priorities is a clear indication of wastefulness. Investors’ interest can only be attracted to Nigeria through a change of approach to contractual obligations entered into by the Federal Government. For now, Sirika should forget it; no one will put their money in this venture. It is difficult to disregard the notion that our officials simply went on another jamboree at the Farnborough Airshow using the unveiling of a name and logo designed by a Bahrainian company as a decoy.