‘N120 billion Aviation intervention fund diverted into private pockets’

The Nigerian Senate

The Senate, on Monday, commenced investigation into how N120 billion government intervention fund released to the aviation industry in 2011, vanished.

The money was released by the Central Bank of Nigeria, as part of a N500 billion intervention fund, the acting director, development and finance at the bank, Mudashiru Olaitan said.

Other beneficiaries of the N500billion fund were the Ministry of Power, and the agency in charge of small and medium scale enterprises, Mr. Olaitan said.

These disclosures were made at a joint hearing of the Senate committees on aviation and anti-corruption, probing funds injected into the aviation sector, on Monday.

Mr. Olaitan said 10 airlines benefitted from the fund through loans with a tenure of 10 to15 years. The loan was monitored by the Bank of Industry.

Out of the 10 airlines, Mr. Olaitan said, two, namely Air Nigeria and Chanchangi Airline, had folded up. He mentioned Arik, Dana, Aero, Kabo, Overland, First Nation, Odengene as ones still in operation.

He said N81 billion was still outstanding, while the CBN had recovered N39 billion, the director said.

However, the minister of transport, Rotimi Amaechi, said neither his ministry nor agencies under it had a record of the fund.

“Based on available records,” Mr. Amaechi said, “the transport ministry and its agencies were not aware of the N120 billion fund.”

Corroborating Mr. Amaechi’s stance, Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the fund was diverted.

“This is something that went terribly wrong in the past,” said Mr. Sirika.

“What is unbelievable as discovered by the committee is that these monies were transferred out of the country; the monies were transferred into private accounts, transferred into foreign banks and used to buy private houses.”

Supporting that claim, John Nnorom, a former director of finance, Air Nigeria, said Jimoh Ibrahim, owner of the company, diverted a loan of N34.5 billion into his private account.

“The very moment the N34.5 billion intervention fund was paid into the airline’s account with United Bank for Africa (UBA), it disappeared into one of the private accounts of the owner without any amount from the fund injected into the airline, paving the way for its eventual collapse,” Mr. Nnorom submitted.

The chairman of Senate committee on aviation, Hope Uzodinma, said “The allegations are not just absurd but shocking. We are here to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of such allegations of misappropriation or diversion of the said funds.”

A member of the committee, Shaba Lafiagi, said it was possible that some banks that provided security for the loans only used the CBN intervention fund to recover what they were owed by the owners of the airlines.

The Senate committees directed that the CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, heads of BoI, other relevant agencies and airlines must appear at the next hearing day.

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