Nigeria Air: Anti-corruption body drags Sirika to EFCC, wants minister probed for fraud

A Nigeria-based anti-corruption group, SecureWorld and Liberty Initiative for Peace, SELIP, has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to probe the outgoing Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, for allegedly using the establishment of a national carrier, Nigeria Air, to perpetrate fraud and commit economic sabotage.

The petition, which was addressed to the EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, was signed by the Executive Director of SELIP, Comrade Mark Adebayo, requesting the anti-graft agency to investigate the outgoing minister for undertaking ventures designed to benefit a few individuals and lead to the eventual collapse of aviation, a critical sector of the Nigerian economy.

The group noted with dismay the unveiling of an aircraft on Friday in Abuja purportedly belonging to Nigeria Air, despite an existing court order restraining the minister from taking any action regarding the project.

The group alleged that in a desperate bid to hoodwink President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and the generality of Nigerians, the minister imported a re-painted aircraft owned by Ethiopian Airlines and passed it off as the maiden flight belonging to Nigeria Air.

The civil society group averred that the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos headed by Justice A.L Allagoa, in a suit filed by the Airline Operators of Nigeria, had  granted three separate orders of injunctions, restraining the Federal Government from taking any step about the Nigeria Air project ‘but the minister in a desperate bid to cover up the monumental fraud in the deal elected to flagrantly disobeyed 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. 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. 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,” the group said in the petition.

The group urged the anti-graft agency to make Sirika account for a whopping N15.9 billion that has been committed so far to the project by the federal government, alleging that the desperation by the minister is geared 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; so, 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,” the petition read.

Sirika claimed that Nigeria Air Limited is a private sector-led airline, with only five per cent of the company owned by the Nigerian government. The minister also added that a consortium of entrepreneurs in Nigeria owns 46 percent while investors in Ethiopian Airlines retain 49 percent of the shares.

However, SELIP in the petition, countered the minister saying the conception and implementation of the national carrier project were shrouded in ambiguity and designed to defraud the people of Nigeria by a few Nigerians in connivance with their international collaborators.

“There’s no agreement with the stakeholders in Nigeria, so on what basis has a painted plane be 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 the, reserves all Executive Directors positions for the Ethiopians with Nigerians as deputies,” the group said.

SELIP said Sirika must be compelled to explain why in the proposed  Shareholder Agreement, Ethiopian Airlines will also collect millions of dollars yearly as management fees despite having 49% shares and why the East African company will attract such grace by using just their own planes as contributions to the project.

The group also charged the EFCC to probe the 3% of the total shares allocated to  Fairfax Ltd which was appointed as the Transaction Adviser to the project.

SELIP appealed to the anti-graft agency to probe the deal that granted Fairfax Nigeria Limited the shares without paying a dime.

“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. 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,” the group said.

SELIP said the implementation of the project is capable of undermining the efforts of the incoming Bola Tinubu administration and the EFCC must make the promoters of the phantom deal face the full length of the law.

“Being a high flight risk after May 29th, 2023, we demand the immediate arrest of Minister Hadi Sirika before he flees the country.  We urge your Commission to keep perfect vigilance on Minister Sirika and not allow him to escape from these shores but be made to answer for his massive corruption that is bound to harm the critical sector of Nigeria’s Aviation Industry.

“This scam scheme can only be compared to the daring scam by a Nigerian who sold a phantom airport to some Brazilians years ago. We are sure the Commission has an institutional memory of that obnoxious financial crime that caused Nigeria international embarrassment. The current scam is no less obnoxious.

“We have confidence that the EFCC will do justice and timely, too, to get to the bottom of this scam and save Nigeria’s Aviation Industry from the impending doom,” the petition read.

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