Despite previous claims that it was the favoured bidder after a “rigorous process,” Ethiopian Airlines (ET) management has now denied any interest in the disputed Nigeria Air.
According to The Guardian, Mesfin Tasew, the group chief executive officer of East African carrier Ethiopian Airlines, claimed the airline joined the project as a partner at the invitation of the government under the leadership of the former minister, Hadi Sirika.
It was a combination of entreaties and hasty preparations for a launch in Abuja at the end of the last government, Tasew added, that had kept ET involved in the tricky arrangement to this point.
It had been said that the project had been difficult to sell since its 2018 London launch. Technical partners were sought by the Ministry of Aviation, who advertised in foreign publications for a 49 percent interest in Nigeria Air. Only Ethiopian Airlines was still interested in Nigeria Air after two months and a one-month extension.
Sirika’s ministry disclosed the “preferred bidders” and named SAHCO, MRS, and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) as the trustees of 46% of private sector equities.
However, the government quickly published a rebuttal, saying that NSIA was mistakenly included. Legal challenges brought by AON members have also prevented the Nigeria Air project from taking off.
However, ET’s GCEO stated that the new national carrier in Nigeria was already founded when Ethiopian Airlines was approached to cooperate with it, dispelling the myth that Ethiopians were interested in owning and operating a Nigeria airline.
Ethiopian Airlines never intended to begin operations in Nigeria. The Nigerian government asked ET (Ethiopian Airlines) to compete in a bid and assist the Nigerian government in establishing a Nigerian flag carrier in May 2022, shortly after I began my current role as Group CEO. We received it in writing.
At first, we were hesitant to discuss it. We said that we were preoccupied with other projects in other nations. Ethiopian Airlines is an African airline, yet the Nigerian government required it assist in the establishment of the Nigerian national carrier.
Therefore, we had no choice but to accord them the utmost deference. We couldn’t say no, we can’t come and help you since we fly to four places in Nigeria to serve the people and government there. Because of this, we were obligated to provide a proposal to the government of Nigeria.
Since the Nigerian government had also asked other airlines from the Middle East and Europe to submit bids, we assumed that ET wasn’t their only option.
I have no idea if they were involved or not. After submitting our application, we were notified by the Ministry of Aviation that Ethiopian Airlines will be joining forces with them to launch the airline, as Tasew explained.
He continued by saying that a withdrawal was required due to lawsuits filed by Nigerian companies and the defamation of ET and the Ethiopian government, but that the Nigerian authorities had opposed.
He stressed that the history of Nigeria Air existed much before the introduction of ET.
Before we were invited, it had already been established by the Nigerian government. It has its own management team and is actively planning to apply for its Air Operators’ Certificate (AOC).
Therefore, upon our arrival, it became necessary to reorganise the Nigeria Air’s ownership. The logo was not created by Ethiopian Airlines; rather, it was already defined by the company. We reasoned that the Nigerian people and government would stand to gain from the launch of Nigeria Air.
Because the Nigerian government asked us why we wanted to start a new airline when we met with them. They complained that there is a lack of reputable airlines in Nigeria and expressed interest in working with a global carrier that would supply them with punctual departures and arrivals.
Foreign airlines’ inflated ticket prices, according to the Nigerian government, put the average Nigerian at a disadvantage. The goal of the Nigerian government was to establish a national carrier that is capable of serving both the home and international markets. And we’re on board with it. Hence, we felt it was necessary to press ahead with it,” he explained.
Tasew claimed that an ET plane was rebranded at the request of the Nigeria Air project handlers, explaining the contentious inauguration at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, in May of last year.
To speed up the process of obtaining an Air Operators’ Certificate, the management of Nigeria Air (which does not include Ethiopian Airlines) once requested that we provide planes bearing the Nigerian flag. We agreed, and so we flew one of our planes over to Nigeria so that the country’s aviation watchdog, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), could inspect it.
We retrieved the plane after two days, had it repainted with the Ethiopian flag, and now it’s airborne. Apparently, a government change occurred while we were waiting for the court’s ruling.