Nigeria Airways Still Exists – Capt Ibrahim Yunusa
Capt. Ibrahim Yunusa Kazaure is a former pilot with the defunct Nigeria Airways and has worked with several other airlines in the country as a pilot. He is also the founder and coordinator of the group, Bring Back Nigeria Airways which has been agitating for the payment of entitlements of former workers of the defunct national carrier. He spoke with Daily Trust on the mission of the group and other issues in the sector.
What is the agenda of the Bring Back Nigeria Airways Group?
I conceived the idea of bringing back Nigeria Airways because, considering what the country is going through and what is happening all over the world, I believe it is high time we started bring back Nigeria Airways. Having a national airline is boosting our image internationally in the area of civil aviation, tourism and financial inputs for investors to come in when they can have access to good national carrier that would take them all over the nation.
If you look at the way our boys are graduating with pilot licences, engineering licences, cabin crew and at the end of the day they don’t have jobs, if we have a national carrier owned by the government, I am sure those boys would have gotten jobs. Like when I finished my training in the early 1980s, by the time I came back to Nigeria, a job was waiting for me and we had quality training at that time.
But how can you bring back an airline which a lot of people believe is already dead and buried?
Yes, it is possible to bring back Nigeria Airways. Technically speaking and legally speaking, Nigeria Airways still exists because Nigeria Airways was created by an Act of Parliament in 1958 or thereabouts. Unfortunately when the government of Olusegun Obasanjo liquidated it, it did not follow due process. They didn't go to the National Assembly to repeal the act which created the Nigeria Airways. After it was haphazardly and illegally liquidated, publication was made for debtors to come up and four months were given for all claimants to come up. After the expiration, the total debt was calculated.
Now everything has been sorted out except the issue of former staff entitlements. Once our colleagues are settled, at least Nigeria Airways can come back legally and technically. So Nigeria Airways still exists.
So the agitation now is for government to settle the former staff?
Yes, our current agitation is for government to pay the former workers their outstanding entitlements because our colleagues in Europe, our colleagues in America, Asia and all over the world, have been paid their entitlements upfront. But those of us in Nigeria have not been fully paid. We were only paid five years during the late Yar’adua regime. Since then we have not gotten anything.
Fortunately President Muhammadu Buhari during his campaign promised to pay all the outstanding arrears, pensions and gratuities of all government parastatals and in fulfilment of his promise, he has paid a lot of parastatals there entitlements. I think it is only the Nigeria Airways that is remaining.
We believe President Buhari is a man of his words, he keeps to his words and his promises. So we are still looking up to him to pay us our entitlements.
Like how much is government owing the former workers as entitlements?
It is over N74 billion now.
And how many of you are affected?
We should be about 3,500 because as at now we have lost over 800. You can see virtually every week, we post obituary on our online group page. There are some that we don't get to know. In fact we have many of our members that are sick, some are hypertensive; some are diabetic. There are some who need accommodation and some with children out of school. Most of our colleagues have been thrown out of their rented houses because they can't pay and they have not been opportune to build their own houses. Our suffering is just too much and sad. We have been reduced to beggars.
The Nigeria Airways then was seen largely as a philanthropic organisation not a profit making one. A lot of free and complimentary tickets were given out. Do you think government has the resources to do that now given the competing demands before it?
Let me address the issue of complimentary tickets. First, staff are entitled to complimentary tickets all over the world. Every staff of an airline is entitled to a number of tickets in a year. In the days of Nigeria Airways, the management had the discretion to give complimentary tickets and who appointed the management, was it not the government? So such tickets were given to government officials who would use it as a marketing strategy or whatever, to boost the name of the airline. That's the practice all over the world. Government can form its carrier, put its money, have a serious management team and focus on what they really want. Government can also invest 50 per cent and allow the private sector to contribute the remaining percentage or whatever.
Looking at the industry generally, it is said to be attractive from outside but inside there are many challenges. How can government make the industry much more profitable to attract investors?
Aviation is capital intensive. It requires a lot of money; a lot of inputs, a lot of dedication and a lot of discipline without which no airline can succeed. So to really succeed, all these things I mentioned must be in place. The issue of Jet A1 is another issue because it is very expensive in Nigeria, much more than other countries around. That has to be addressed. I know by the time we start refining Jet A1 locally, the problem would be taken care off. Government must give airlines concessionary rate like they do in other countries. Also, some taxes have to be reviewed as they eat too much into the airline's overhead cost.
This interview was originally published on www.dailytrust.com.ng