The Many Sins of Arik Air, by Abubakar Usman

Abubakar Usman
Abubakar Usman

“Arik Air represents everything that is wrong with Nigeria,…” the author argues.

I read with dismay, the recommendation of the Senate committee on Aviation asking the Federal Government to allow Arik Air, owned by Port Harcourt-based businessman, Dr. Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, to become the national carrier until the Aviation Ministry sets up a new national carrier. Although I have not been privileged to read the content of the committees report and therefore would not know the reasons other than its findings of arbitrary fees charged by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic airways to have made that recommendation, but I know many reasons why Arik Air does not qualify and should never be made Nigeria’s National Carrier.

The Senate committee has said that the national carrier status should at least be granted Arik Air in the interim pending when the Ministry of Aviation will put together a national carrier, but the question is of what importance is it to have an interim national carrier when there are plans to float a permanent one? Since the demise in 2003 of Nigerian Airways, the country’s wholly owned airline due largely to mismanagement and corruption, Nigeria has been without a national carrier, but now the Senate has not just seen an urgent need for one, but also thinks it should be Arik Air.

I am not an aviation expert, neither do I know the extent of economic implication of not having a national carrier, but assuming Nigeria must have a national carrier at all cost, whether interim or permanent, why does it have to be an airline that is shrouded in controversy?

I stand to be corrected when I say Arik Air is a creation of those who deliberately destroyed Nigeria Airways so as to have it as a replacement as national carrier. Recall that shortly after the formation of Arik Air in 2004, a year after the liquidation of Nigeria Airways, there were calls that it should be made the national carrier. That was after the properties of Nigeria Airways most especially its aircraft; about 30 of them had been sold to Arik Air at give away prices in 2006. Does it not ring a bell?

Arik Air may today stand as Nigeria’s and probably Africa’s largest commercial Airline, but it is also one of the airlines that should not be qualified to fly Nigeria’s airspace if the powers that be do not cover up the activities that goes on in Arik, and if Nigeria is a country that does not play with standards.

The company treats its staff, especially the Nigerian staff with disdain. While the Airline gets her London staff’s salaries paid on due date without exception, same cannot be said of the poor Nigerian folks who put up with the incredible levels of decay and incompetent management that obtains in Nigeria, with their salaries being delayed for months, yet the airline has been recommended to become the country’s national carrier.

The measure of quality derived from its management is not only applicable to her staff, but also Nigerians who fly their line. The airlines relationship with her customers is one that should not even be accepted by domestic standards, let alone by international standards and a company that has been recommended as a national Carrier. In recent times there have been reported cases of customers loosing goods and huge sums of money on its aircraft. From the disappearance of $200,000 from the luggage of an Access bank Staff to the stealing of N960, 000 by a passenger from the baggage of another passenger and to the loss of valuable items like wedding rings and galaxy tabs, complaints of theft has become the trend.

While the incessant theft reported on its flights may not completely be a fault of the airline, the manner with which it has treated customer’s complaint speaks volume of a company that should not be made a national carrier. Only this Tuesday, the airline prevented a social media activist, Japheth Omojuwa, from travelling on its plane from Abuja to Lagos simply because he engaged the company in the recovery of his IPAD which was stolen during one of the flight of the airline.

Succinctly put, “Arik Air represents everything that is wrong with Nigeria, crass customer service, Molue driver like pilots and recurrent cases of theft aboard their craft by passengers and their own staff,” but chief amongst the reasons Arik Air should never be given the status of Nigeria’s national carrier is the fact that the company wants to abandon the responsibility of paying its debt. Arik air is reported to owe Asset Management Company of Nigeria billions of naira. The danger of this is that the debt will be transferred to Nigeria’s tax payers, thus increasing the burden on the ordinary Nigerian; majority of whom do not travel by air, whereas, the owners of the company will be reeling in wealth.

There was also a case of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission finding the company guilty of tax evasion to the tune of N5 billion in 2010, while putting to questions, the source of its funding, but as usual the Nigerian factor propelled by the big men has swept those findings under the carpet. According to EFCC’s investigation, Arik Air is a habitual tax evader; an evasion history that dates back to the period the company commenced business. It described the Chairman of the company, Dr. Michael Arumemi-Ikhide as someone who does not consider tax payment as part of the company’s obligation, whereas it collects tax on behalf of government, but invests it back into the business. Under a sane society, such findings are enough to signal the end of that company, but in Nigeria, anything goes. Is this the kind of company you want to make our national carrier?

Rather than allow Arik Air to serve as the country’s national carrier even if it’s on an interim basis, the Federal Government should set up a national carrier from scratch, using its own resources, rather than accept the debt and liabilities of the company. If we have been without a national carrier for 9 years, a few more years would not be too much a sacrifice to have a truly national carrier, and not one arranged to serve a few of the looting class whose survival rests on the flow of corrupt money.

Stop Press: I was just putting finishing touches to this piece when I got a report that the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, has shut down the operations of Arik Air over an N18 billion debt the airline owes the aviation authority. While I am yet to get the details of the debt owed, I have no doubt in my mind that the debt would include of taxes the airline received on behalf of the government and refused to remit to the appropriate authority. This is only coming from FAAN yet. I am sure other agencies would have similar claims if thorough investigations are conducted, yet that is a company that the Senate committee on Aviation recommended should be allowed to fly Nigeria’s flag.

Follow @abusidiqu on twitter for more direct engagement

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