Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Thursday restated that the defunct Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) was a failure, not worthy of resuscitation, at the time he ordered its liquidation.
Mr. Obasanjo spoke at the formal presentation of a book entitled ‘Nigerian Civil Aviation: Decade of Safety and Passengers Comfort Development’ at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Training Centre, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja.
The book was written by Femi Ogunleye, a former spokesman of the defunct airline.
President Obasanjo, whose administration liquidated the then national carrier in 2003, was the chairman of the book presentation.
He said that NAL was a failure by the time he assumed office as Nigerian President in 1999 and he had no alternative than to liquidate and sell it.
“When I was leaving office in 1979 as the military Head of State, I left behind 32 aircraft but 20 years later in 1999 when I assumed office as the elected president, there was one aircraft flying,” he said.
Mr. Obasanjo said that the airline’s Board of Directors, at the time the firm was liquidated, was utterly corrupt, forming various dubious companies which were used as conduit pipes to siphon funds from the airline under the guise of servicing and maintaining the lone aircraft.
He said that after illegally collecting funds from NAL, the board would not pay the legitimate companies awarded the aircraft maintenance contract, only for the companies to seize the aircraft.
“You would be a very irresponsible leader if you failed to do something about such an ugly development and I had to do something as the incumbent President of Nigeria.
“I will not reinforce failure and NAL is a failure and it was not worth being reinforced when I assumed office in 1999 as the Executive President of Nigeria,’’ he said.
Mr. Obasanjo also likened the liquidation and sale of NAL to that of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) which, he said, had 19 brand new ships in 1979 but was left with one in 1999.
“The remaining Merchant Vessel was sold as a scrap for half a million dollars but when the Maritime Academy, Oron, needed it, the Federal Government had to pay two million dollars to refix it.
“During its first voyage outside the country, the vessel was seized for not being sea worthy.
“The country that seized it asked me to pay one million dollars for its release and I declined, offering to dash the country that seized it. The next day, the ship was released to Nigeria,’’ he said.
Mr. Obasanjo said that some Nigerians were destroying the country through their unpatriotic actions and majority of the nation’s citizens would weep if they knew what the unpatriotic elements were doing.
He, however, called for more funding of the transport sector, with emphasis on aviation, noting that through such investment Nigeria would attain one of the goals of the Vision 20:2020.
Olu Bajowa, a former Chief Executive and later NAL Sole Administrator, who was the Special Guest of Honour, however, said that the company had huge assets locally and internationally from which it could have defrayed its debts instead of being liquidated. “NAL had assets in Europe, UK, America and African countries to offset the liability it purportedly acquired,” Mr. Bajowa said. “The various routes its aircraft were flying as the national carrier and the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) it entered into with other international airlines then were enough for its sustainability.
“The huge resources from BASA and its annual subvention from the Ministry of Aviation then should have formed part of what could have bailed it out.
“It could in the alternative have entered into operations with mega airlines such as the British Airways or other international airlines,” he said.
Mr. Bajowa described NAL as the pride of Nigeria which was competing favourably with national carriers of other countries before its liquidation.
He likened his unceremonious exit from NAL as the work of a cabal who thought that it was their right to milk it to its marrow.
“They never believed that I was there to sanitise it and make it a self-reliant organisation,’’ he said.