•No going back on planned national carrier, Sirika insists
Chinedu Eze and Wale Igbintade
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has restrained the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Aviation from implementing the proposed National Carrier Establishment Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria, Nigeria Air Limited and Ethiopian Airlines.
But despite the court ruling, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika yesterday insisted that the federal government would not go back on the plan to establish the national carrier.
Justice Lewis Alagoa in his ruling dated November 11, 2022, also ordered parties in suit to maintain status quo pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.
Justice Alagoa also ordered an accelerated hearing of the suit.
The plaintiffs, the Registered Trustees of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, Azman Air Services Limited, Air Peace Limited, Max Air Limited, United Nigeria Airlines Company Limited, and Topbrass Aviation Limited, had in a suit marked FHC/L/CS/2159/2022, prayed the court to stop the defendants, the Nigeria Air Limited, Ethiopian Airlines, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Siriki, and the Attorney General of the Federation from implementing the said agreement.
The plaintiffs in their Motion Ex parte dated 10th day of November, 2022, prayed the court for the following orders: “An order of interim injunction restraining the Defendants either by, “themselves, agents, privies, principals or any other persons whosoever from executing the proposed or draft National Carrier Establishment and Agreement between the Federal Government of Nigeria, (represented by the 3rd and 4th Defendants) and the strategic equity partner (the 2nd Defendant) or giving effect to, and or suspending the sale and transfer of the shares & operations of the 1st Defendant by the 2nd Defendant pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.
“Maintenance of status quo by all parties in this suit from taking any further step(s) in relation to the subject matter of this suit pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.
“Accelerated hearing of this suit, and for any other or further orders as this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this case.”
After reading the Affidavit in support of the Motion sworn to by Ewos Iroro, and hearing the submission of counsel for the plaintiff/applicant, Nureni Jimoh, with Abubakar Nuhu Ahmad, the court held, “That an Order of Interim Injunction is granted restraining the Defendants either by themselves, agents, privies, Principals or any other persons whosoever from executing the proposed or draft “National Carrier Establishment and Agreement Between the Federal Government of Nigeria (represented by the 3rd and 4th Defendants) and the strategic equity partner (the 2nd Defendant) or giving effect to and or suspending the sale and transfer of the shares & operations of the 1st Defendant by the 2nd Defendant pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.
“That an Order of Maintenance of Status Quo by all parties in this suit from taking any further step(s) in relation to the subject matter of this suit pending the determination of the Motion on Notice is granted.
“That an Order of Accelerated Hearing of this suit is granted.”
The plaintiffs among other prayers want the court to stop the national carrier deal and withdraw the Air Transport Licence already issued to Nigeria Air by the federal government/Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
They also claimed that the firm which served as transaction adviser for the transaction was incorporated in March last year and alleged that the company was linked to the aviation minister.
The local airlines further alleged that the ATL issued to Nigeria Air did not pass through the normal security clearance.
According to them, the federal government’s partnership with Ethiopian Airlines on the project would send domestic airlines out of business by opening up the domestic air travel market to Ethiopian Airlines.
Meanwhile, Sirika has insisted that the federal government would not go back on the plan to establish the national carrier.
Speaking during a stakeholders’ appreciation forum for the reconstruction of Lagos airport Runway 18L, Sirika said aviation stakeholders and unions had sufficient time to participate in the process rather than engaging in legal suit to stall the project.
He disclosed that he personally and individually engaged indigenous carriers to participate in the project, listing some of those he engaged to include Air Peace, Azman Air and Max Air. However, he said they turned down the invitation because it was not formal.
The Minister reiterated that he did not see the possibility of any court of competent jurisdiction that would be a road block to the emergence of the national carrier.
“I have been very transparent in the processes put in place to deliver the national carrier. If anyone wants to invest in a company, no one can stop them from investing. You can own a company 100 percent. If anyone wants to invest, why not? We want foreign direct investment,” Sirika said.
He said it was totally unacceptable and unfair for stakeholders to claim that they were not carried along on the national carrier project, adding parading such information was working contrary to the actualisation of the aviation road map.
“Every information or documents pertaining to the project is domiciled at the Ministry of Aviation and Infrastructure Construction Regulatory Commission which are driving processes leading to the national carrier,” Sirika said.
On the demolition of structures at the Lagos airport, Sirika said there was no going back on the project to ensure Nigeria delivers state-of-the-art facilities that would transform into an aerotropolis.
Nigeria, he said cannot short change itself on the global move to deliver world class air transport infrastructure as it’s been done in other developed countries such as United Arab Emirates, America, amongst others.