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Saturday, September 5, 2015

History with Cheta Nwanze: Why reviving Nigeria Airways is a bad idea

A few weeks ago, the President announced a
committee to look into reviving Nigeria Airways.
Since then, some of his supporters have gone to
town about how wonderful and profitable it could be
for Nigeria.
Today on #HistoryClass, we will be breezing through
the rise, and the demise, of Nigeria’s national carrier.
A lot of today’s gist comes from newspaper archives,
some of which is investigative work by Nicholas
Nigeria Airways started as West African Airways
Corporation Nigeria (WAAC Nigeria) in 1958 with
Nigeria as majority owner. The defunct Elder
Dempster Lines and BOAC held the remaining 49% of
the shares, and BOAC were the airline managers.
Naturally, the first international route was Lagos-
London, which was operated by a leased plane
owned by BOAC.
Shortly after independence, WAAC Nigeria became
the flag carrier of Nigeria and then, the government
took sole possession. The airline expanded fast, 5
new aircraft and new routes, Abidjan, Accra, Banjul,
Dakar, Freetown and Monrovia by 1963. Gradually,
starting from 1964, BOAC withdrew from operations,
and Nigerians ran the airline more and more on their
Nigeria Airways’ first crash was on 20/11/1969, a
VC10 plane arriving in Lagos from Kano, killing all 87
people aboard.
By 1970, the airline had 2200 staff, 8 planes, with
London, Frankfurt, Madrid and Rome and West
African destinations. In 1971, a Boeing 707, leased
from Ethiopia, entered service to replace the plane
which crashed two years before. In 1972, British
involvement in running the airline ended as Nigeria
signed a management contract with America’s TWA.
Fleet expansion continued, and by the end of 1978,
Nigeria Airways had a total of twenty aircraft, mostly
from the US. The agreement with TWA ended in early
1979, and by September of that year, KLM were the
new managers of Nigeria Airways. During the 7 year
period of TWA’s management, Nigeria Airways
suffered FIVE plane crashes killing a total of 194
By the end of Shagari’s reign, Nigeria Airways’ debts
were more than revenues, there were 500 staff for
each plane. When Buhari overthrew Shagari in 1984,
nine of Nigeria Airways’s planes were unserviceable,
seventeen were flying, and there were 8500
employees, most idle. Buhari ordered the airline to
reduce the number of employees and routes as a
cost-cutting measure. It didn’t work.
By the time Babangida came, another 1000 jobs were
cut, and by 1988, with huge debts, most African
routes were culled. Staff salaries were left unpaid,
and staff resorted to, err, self-help, pilfering what
they could to sell.
By 1997, Nigeria Airways had only 3 planes, and had
been banned from most Western destinations over
safety concerns.
When Obasanjo took over in 1999, efforts were made
to revive the airline, including leasing a plane from
Air Djibouti.
Djibouti? We were such bad managers, and debtors
that only Djibouti agreed to lease a plane to us!
So, why did Nigeria Airways collapse?
Nicholas Ibekwe did excellent work on the demise of
our former national flag carrier. Every contract given
out between 1997 and 1999 when Jani Ibrahim was
Managing Director was found to be fraudulent. But
the biggest damage done to the airline was by
Mohammed Joji who misappropriated a total of $31
million. NOT ONE, of the people who were indicted
by Justice Nwazota Commission of Inquiry set up in
2002 has faced justice.
Nigeria Airways was a very good example of why the
Nigerian government should be banned from
running businesses. I urge the government of
President Buhari not to waste everyone’s time with
this venture.
Today’s #HistoryClass is over.

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