Former Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has accused House of Representatives, specifically, Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, lawmaker who branded launch of Nigeria Air as fraud of demanding five percent shares of the National Carrier Air from him. The former minister who  appeared on ARISE TV, said, Hon Nnaji approached him and asked for five percent shares of the airline for “him and his people. On the issue of Hon Nnaji who called Nigeria Air launch a fraud, I will respond now. I will say exactly what I told him in private when we spoke. Hon Nnaji asked me that I should give him 5% of Nigeria to carry him along with his people, and I said to him at that time, Honourable, a bidding process that has taken place, and some people won. So, I think you should go to those people and ask for the 5 percent.”

He said said only N3 billion was released by the federal government for the Nigeria Air project in the last seven years. He said the total budget for the project was N5 billion, but only N3 billion was disbursed. Sirika denied an allegation that his ministry spent N85 billion on the Nigeria Air project. “From 2016 to 2023, all of the money voted and budgeted for Nigeria Air is N5 billion. But all that was released was in the neighbourhood of N3 billion, not N85 billion, and not all of the N3 billion has been expended as of the time I left office. “What has been done with the money is nothing but to get special advisory services, the Air Operator Certificate (AOC) processes, salaries, consultive services, and the maintenance of the office in Abuja. No contract was awarded by Hadi Sirika, these are the things the money was used for. And there is the Freedom of Information Act, people can apply and get all the information about what the money has been used for.

“The N85 billion being mentioned is only in the imagination of the people carrying it about.” Sirika admitted that the aircraft used for the launch of Nigerian Air belonged to Ethiopian Airline, but added that government did not pay for the aircraft as it was brought by Ethiopian Airlines to demonstrate their commitment to the project. The AOC owned by Ethiopian Airline is known to Nigeria and the NCAA, they are permitted to come in either with scheduled passengers, chattered or cargo. They have to come in under one of the 3. So, they came as chartered. Being chartered does not mean that anybody paid for anything. The government did not pay a dime for that aircraft to come in. Secondly, there was no revenue passenger in the aircraft because that would have been totally against the law and wouldn’t have been allowed. It was their own marketing strategy as equity partners. They came to do this unveiling on a special allowance called chartered and it does not mean that we paid for it.

“It is their own marketing strategy as equity partners that they came to do this unveiling on a special allowance which is called chartered flight. Chartered does not mean they paid for it. If there is anybody that paid for it, it would have been the Ethiopian Airline. No penny is paid,” Sirika said. The former Minister said “Let’s be fair, Hon Nnaji didn’t say other members. He said he wants it for himself and his people. His people could be his family, could be members and it could be leadership. I don’t know, but he insisted on 5%. I said that he should relax and approach the owners. That’s exactly what I told him. The former Minister also criticised Nnaji and the aviation committee for conducting what translated to a “predetermined hearing. I was a member of the House of Reps 20 years ago, and 10 years ago, I was a Senator. I know the workings of the National Assembly. He [Nnaji] called for public hearing. And right under the public hearing, he just turned the paper and read the riot act. The practice in the National Assembly is that after hearing people and the complain, you now go and sit down as a committee, discuss the issues, raise them, approach the whole house of reps and take position of the house plus leadership and come back and make your findings known, but not immediately you just read the riot Act out. It means is predetermined.”