President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said he was under tremendous pressure from some prominent Nigerians desirous of the government establishing a national carrier.
He, however, stated that his position remained that Nigerians deserved to know how the nation lost its former national carrier, the Nigeria Airways.
According to a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President spoke while receiving the President of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Dr. Muyiwa Aliu, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
“I equally support a national airline for both patriotic and economic reasons. We have enough trained citizens, including pilots and engineers. But Nigerians need to know how we lost the one we had before,” Buhari was quoted to have said.
The President restated his administration’s determination to speed up the improvement of aviation infrastructure in the country for the benefit of the nation’s economic development.
He declared his total support and commitment to working with regulatory agencies in the aviation sector to make air travel safer throughout the country.
The President, who was presented with three awards recently won by Nigeria by ICAO, expressed delight with the high ranking accorded Nigeria in safety and security at the airports following measures put in place to address gaps in airport security.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who led the ICAO delegation, informed Buhari that Nigeria was hosting the meeting of International World Aviation Forum in Abuja from today (Tuesday), the first time such a conference would hold anywhere outside Montreal, Canada.
He said over 40 aviation ministers and representatives of 70 countries, the World Bank, African Development Bank, and manufacturers of planes and aviation equipment would attend this year’s conference, with the theme: ‘Financing Development of Aviation Infrastructure’.
The President of ICAO, who is a Nigerian, commended President Buhari for fast-tracking policy initiatives that changed the fortunes of air travel in the country, describing the reconstruction of the runway at the Abuja airport as a rare feat.
Aliu presented a certificate of recognition of the School of Aviation Technology, Zaria as a regional centre of excellence; the certification of both the Abuja and Lagos airports, which had attained ICAO standards for the first time in their history; and another certificate marking the attainment of the International Organisation for Standardisation ISO 9001, 2015 by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency.
Sirika later told State House correspondents that Nigeria would be seizing the opportunity of the forum to close some deals.
He said, “The purpose of this forum is to connect needs and sources of financing for member states. Nigeria will not be left behind. There is the World Bank, Boeing, Airbus, African Development Bank, and so on.
“Nigeria will not sit by; we will take advantage of the opportunity to close some deals if we can, or at least agree to something and sign some MoUs regarding not only the national carrier, but financing of other infrastructural needs of the country.”
The minister added, “This is very important to us and we are grateful to ICAO for agreeing to host the forum in Nigeria. We will make sure we make progress before we depart.
“We have been working since we came. Aviation is beyond robust airport or carrier, there is a lot more. What is more important is safety: you take off from one point and land safely on the other point.”