The former vice chairman of Arik Air, Senator Anietie Okon, has alleged that the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) put paid to the plan by some persons in government to sell off the airline.
Speaking in an interview in Lagos, he said some vested interests took advantage of the airline’s financial distress occasioned by economic downturn in the country that forced it into recession as well as the plunge of the value of the naira.
“This made it extremely difficult to obtain foreign exchange and run the airline, which has the largest fleet in the country. The bad economy also affected some other companies in the country, which rely on forex to sustain their operations,” he said.
Currently, Okon said no Nigerian airline is benefitting properly from the bilateral agreements Nigeria signed with other countries.
Instead, he said government “has given away all the routes to foreign airlines to the detriment of Nigeria’s interest.”
The politician noted that the economic and social consequences of government not supporting Arik and the other airlines resulted in job losses and the weakening of the value of naira. He recalled that Arik was selling tickets for international destinations in naira while foreign airlines continued to demand dollars.
He also said the airline had 2, 600 staff workers as against foreign airlines that may have at most 10 Nigerian staff workers
Okon accused the Nigerian government of “always being too willing to cut deals with foreign airlines and give our market away. Our country is losing so much for the selfish interest of a few.”
“In other societies, government would have stepped in to save the airline (Arik) by providing it and others support, knowing that the economic problem was a national issue. Instead, it forcefully took over Arik and today the airline is operating less than 40 per cent of its capacity,” he added.
However, Okon applauded the AMCON management for striving to keep the airline operating though with very low capacity with most of the aircraft due for maintenance but without the resources to take them out for repairs.
He added that that at the 11th year of the airline, the former management had planned to bring the B737 MAX to take over from the existing ones while the latter go for heavy maintenance. He said this was supposed to be the fleet renewal strategy of the airline, which wanted to maintain young fleet in its operations.
“The stakeholders are gearing for a rebirth of the airline. Eight aircraft are ripe for heavy checks. They are there parked and wasting away. They have degraded the maintenance culture of the company because we take the aircraft to European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rated maintenance facility. But we heard they now take them to Lithuania facility where the maintenance cost is cheap. Even at that they cannot even pay for the aircraft they have taken out,” he said.