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Minority shareholder can’t truncate national carrier project – Nwuba



Dr. Alex Nwuba

Dr. Alex Nwuba is the President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria and the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Associated Airlines.

In this interview with Charles Ayodele, he spoke on the activities of the new Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Kayamo, airport, and fear of policy somersaults, among others. Excerpts:

Nairametrics: Recently, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr Festus Keyamo, announced the suspension of the national carrier and airport concession projects, There are fears that this pronouncement may lead to the termination of the projects, What do you have to say on this, sir?

Nwuba: The termination or not of the projects depends on the agreements that were signed. What were the terms of the agreements?

Remember, for Nigeria Air, Nigeria was supposed to be a 5 per cent shareholder, but it’s a critical part of it. So, if the government chooses to suspend the project, one or two things will happen. The government can withdraw its participation and allow them to continue in any way they want or end it.

So, if they signed the agreement with a condition they cannot exit, which is not likely because they are a minority, then there could be a legal challenge.

If it is such that they say they want to opt-out and everybody can opt-out, such as a minimum shareholder, then, the government will proceed.

The suspension word means the government has more than 5 per cent shares in the airline and it is a critical part of it. We don’t know if anything was signed.

Many things that we were told by the past administration were full of inconsistencies, including the aeroplane it said would be arriving.

One will have to allow Mr Keyamo to come back after his findings, especially as a lawyer who knows the consequence of the action he has taken and the potential liability from it. Maybe we didn’t even sign an agreement.

Nairametrics: What do you have to say on the suspension of the airport’s concession?

Nwuba: It was also done in the last minutes of the former administration. The question becomes what document did they execute within the dying hours to do it?

One of the things that happened is that if the terms of the contracts were called to question legally, then, the government has the right to opt out of it because it has not gone into conclusion.

We should be cautious of the fact that the minister is a lawyer by profession and he’s very competent and qualified and he understands the consequence of a unilateral decision to be a party to a contract.

Also, sometimes you ask yourself, is it better to pay the cost now and forgo the largest cost without any real thing in the future?

These are all the perambulations that must be going through his mind as a lawyer, not just as a businessman that can damn the consequence of a contract but we have to start with, do we have a contract in the first place and was the contract done in good faith. What were the terms of those contracts?

We heard the Ethiopian Airlines say, ‘We are ready.’ But have you heard any Nigerian investors say they are ready? Or ‘we have put money in or signed an agreement?’

Nairametrics: Sir, don’t you think if the contracts are eventually terminated as suspected, this may lead to policy summersault on the part of the government?

Nwuba: Policy summersault has always been a negative thing. The question is, is it the policy of Summersault by the same administration or by an administration that came and found a bad deal on the table?

We entered into too many agreements a week into the end of the last administration. So, when you walk in and somebody has planted mines for you everywhere, do you continue, or do you take the risk of policy summersault to right the wrong?

Nairametrics: How do you think Nigeria could avoid this logjam in the future?
Nwuba: One of the things that has been consistent with us for a long time is that there is not much long-term strategic thinking. We don’t define the endpoint before we embark on a journey.

It is very clear from many of the policy decisions that we have made that we simply see an opportunity and grab it, but for the sake of the hundreds of millions of citizens, the government cannot stop growing.

If we look at the countries that we consider great today, it is a vision to be somewhere 20, 40, 50 years from now. How do we get there and what journey do we embark on?

Too often, you see the picture and it looks too big in your eyes and you say, ‘You can’t achieve it.’ We need to understand that the process of building the future is step-by-step.

We just enter one journey and go like that. Everybody told the government that the decision to form a national carrier with a foreign national carrier was not in the best interest of the nation.

It doesn’t solve the problem of capital flights from our economy, loss of jobs, and loss of opportunities for citizens. We are steering the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), and others in the face.

What do we want to do in that evolving African marketplace where we have one continent, rather than these fragmented countries? What do we want to do strategically? We needed to be more strategic in the roles we play and where we want to be.

We should think forward to the future. We have policy summersaults because we rush into something without a clear idea of where we are going.

Then, we realize we are on the wrong part, and we have to do two things; we either continue on the wrong part or retrace our steps and choose a different part.

That retracing of our path ought to lead us to where we want to go, but to retrace to something that will get us into trouble in a short time is another thing.


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