- The Airline’s Many Errors
- The Stella Oduah Connection
Not a few Nigerians were shocked on Thursday when Arik Air suspended flight operations nationwide. The shock was mainly because for some time now, Arik has been adjudged the biggest and the most dependable airline in Nigeria. Arik has the largest fleet with about 23 aircraft and it is believed to be superior to other airlines in terms of reach and other services.
The airline suspended operations after its flight was disrupted because of the debts owed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) running into about N 7 billion including landing charges. Officials of the Airports Authority prevented Arik passengers from flying on Thursday as they blocked check-in counters and chained doors leading to a boarding gate at the Lagos Airport thereby leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.
In a statement, the management of Arik Air apologized to passengers, saying “due to the persistent hostility of the Ministry of Aviation and FAAN Management, which has culminated in the use of FAAN staff to stop Arik Air operations and block in checked-in passengers in Lagos.
Arik has no option than to suspend all domestic operations until further notice. The issue borders on personal interests and payment of bills since FAAN has been collecting their charges in advance since 18 months now.
Arik regrets the inconveniences this disruption by FAAN would cause you. Thank you for your much valued support.”
The airline’s management also blamed the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah for its present predicament as it alleged that the Minister demanded to be listed among the company’s shareholders. The statement read in part that the minister “demanded a %% equity in a business where she has no investment”.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Aviation, Joel Obi however denied the allegation that the Minister demanded equity from Arik. He described the allegations as being “completely untrue, unfounded and malicious.” In his opinion, “the allegation is just a way to divert public attention away from the issue at stake”. He disclosed that the airline was trying to cash in on the flight disruption to avoid settling the debt it currently owes the Federal government.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN however stated that the flight disruption happened because of unions’ complaint towards non- payment of their salary. The FAAN statement reads in part “the management wishes to inform the public that it was not aware of any plan by the unions to embark on the said industrial action as the management considers it to be counter-productive.”
Reacting to the allegations from Arik, the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), George Uriesi disclosed that “Arik’s reaction to the issue shows that they don’t want to pay us. They have gone out to say we don’t owe FAAN, they are saying it is a personal vendetta of the Minister of Aviation and the MD of FAAN. They want to run away from their obligations. And all this while we have been giving them notifications, invitations to meetings, there were several reconciliation meetings they didn’t show up for. They just don’t care..I have come to the conclusion that the business module of Arik is to get by without paying its bills.”
Street Journal’s investigations have however revealed that the National Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) too has scores to settle with the airline over debts totalling about N 4 billion. It is being alleged that Arik owes almost every agency in the aviation sector.
Findings have also connected the rude and unpleasant attitude normally put up by Arik staff in most Nigerian airports to the fact that their salaries have not been very regular. Street Journal’s investigations revealed that in some airports, Arik staff hiked the staff by certain percentages without the knowledge of the management. The excess was often shared by the staff at the end of the day’s work to make up for salaries that were not forthcoming then.
Street Journal also gathered that in South Africa, three Nigerians were detained after an issue with Arik. Having arrived ten minutes late for check-in, the Nigerians proceeded to the airline’s office to reconfirm their tickets, in the course of which an argument ensued. The lady heading the operations in the Arik office wasted no time in calling in the police and the passengers were allegedly detained for three days and arraigned the fourth day for assault. The case was however dismissed by the court.
It is an open secret that a lot of Nigerians have issues with the airline that is being tipped to be the country’s national carrier. Japhet Omojuwa, a critic on social media has been locked in a battle with the airline over the loss of his iPad while on an Arik flight. Many people have also alleged the loss of their valuables including laptops and phones while passengers’ luggage are found to have been opened at times.
As of 2010, the EFCC too listed Arik as a tax evader, with the amount of unpaid tax put at about N 5 billion.
Meanwhile, there seems to be more problems for the airline as its name featured on the list of companies blacklisted by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The CBN sent a circular to all commercial banks that some companies, including Arik should not be allowed access to credit facilities. The company’s total debts to banks have been conservatively put at about N 85.481 billion.