The Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Mesfin Tasew, has accused the immediate past administration of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari of forcing the Nigeria Air project on it.
The Former Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika had floated the airline on May 27 2023 as it was later discovered that an aircraft belonging to ET was used to conduct a demonstration flight against the dictate of the process for the establishment of a new airline.
Speaking with journalists in Addis Ababa, the Airline’s CEO stated that the East African carrier never had any plan to set up an airline in Nigeria but was invited by the federal government to partner with it to establish a national carrier, Nigeria Air.
He said the airline almost withdrew from the setup but the government insisted it should continue with the process.
Tasew said, “Ethiopian Airlines didn’t have any intention or plan to setup an airline in Nigeria. In May, of 2022, when I took my current responsibility (as Group CEO), a request came from the Nigerian government asking Ethopian Airlines to participate in a bid and help the Nigerian government to setup a Nigerian flag carrier. It came in writing.
“Initially, we didn’t want to go into that. We said we have other initiatives in other countries and we were busy. But the Nigerian government insisted that Ethiopian Airlines is an African airline, it has to help the Nigerian government in setting up the national carrier. So, we had to respect them. We serve the Nigerian public and government by flying to four cities in Nigeria; we couldn’t say no, we cannot come and help you. So, we had to submit proposal, we had to respect the Nigerian government.
“And we thought that the Nigerian government had choices, ET being one; because they had also requested other airlines in the Middle East, Europe to participate in the bid. I don’t know whether they participated or not. We submitted our proposal and we received a letter from the Ministry of Aviation, saying that Ethiopian Airlines has been selected to be a partner to set up the airline.
“Then the Nigerian government wanted the structure of investors to be Nigerian investing institutions and the Nigerian government wanted only 5 percent shares to ensure that they have presence in the airline and to facilitate the establishment of the airline. We had a lot of discussions, we agreed but we had some differences in some points.
“At one point, the leadership of Nigeria Air, which doesn’t include Ethiopian Airlines, asked us to bring aircraft painted with Nigerian logo to facilitate the progress of the Air Operators’ Certificate. So, we agreed with that, we took out one of our aircraft, we painted it with Nigerian logo, we flew it, it was for demonstration by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for their inspection. So, after two days, we brought back the aircraft, repainted it with Ethiopian logo and it is flying. So, while we were here, waiting for the decision of the court, now there was a change of government that took place.”
He said the airline at first resisted the invitation to set up the airline but later agreed due to long relationship it has with Nigeria where it operates to four cities.
He said while Ethiopian Airlines and the Nigerian government were preparing the shareholding, it received message that some companies and airlines in Nigeria were defaming Ethiopian Airlines and the federal government and had gone to court and obtained a court order to stop the establishment of Nigeria Air.
This prompted Ethiopian Airlines to want to withdraw, but the Nigerian government insisted that it should continue the process of establishing the national carrier for the most populous nation in Africa.
The Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines said that until now the airline has not decided whether to continue the process to establish Nigeria Air but the federal government said it should continue with the groundwork until the court vacates the order and it addressed some concerns, insisting that it was not cancelling the project.
Tasew emphasized that Nigeria Air was already established before Ethiopian Airlines was invited to partner with it.