Former minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika who served under the immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari has reacted to reports that he scammed Nigeria of N139.3bn using Ethiopian Airlines as Nigeria Air.
Recall that the former minister has been under fire over the unveiling of the new national carrier, Nigeria Air, 48 hours before his exit.
The purported Nigeria Air was discovered to be a hired aircraft from Ethiopian Airline, repainted and rebranded in Nigeria colours
The scam has put the country in bad light globally. However, Sirika has come out to say high powered individuals in the country also contributed in frustrating the good intention of former President Muhammadu Buhari towards the project.
He said that the Chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji requested for five percent share in the airline for him and his people which he turndown directing him to the stakeholders.
In an interview on AriseTV, Sirika while responding on the issue of Hon Nnaji who called Nigeria Air launch a fraud, he said: “I will respond now. I will say exactly what I told him in private when we spoke.
“Hon Nnaji asked me that I should give him 5 percent of Nigeria to carry him along with his people, and I said to him at that time, Honourable, a bidding process that has taken place, and some people won. So, I think you should go to those people and ask for the 5 percent.”
“Let’s be fair, Hon Nnaji didn’t say other members. He said he wants it for himself and his people. His people could his be his family, could be members and it could be leadership. I don’t know, but he insisted on 5 percent. I said that he should relax and approach the owners. That’s exactly what I told him.”
The former Minister also criticised Nnaji and the aviation committee for conducting what translated to a “predetermined hearing”.
‘I was a member of the House of Reps 20 years ago, and 10.”
Reacting to the allegation that the Aviation Ministry under Sirika had spent N85 billion on the Nigeria Air project, the former Minister said:
“From 2016 to 2023, all of the money voted and budgeted for Nigeria Air is N5 billion. But all that was released was in the neighborhood of N3 billion, not N85 billion, and not all of the N3 billion has been expended as of the time I left office. What has been done with the money is nothing but to get special advisory services, the AOC processes, salaries, consultive services, and the maintenance of the office in Abuja.
“No contract was awarded by Hadi Sirika, these are the things the money was used for. And there is the Freedom of Information Act, people can apply and get all the information about what the money has been used for. The N85 billion being mentioned is only in the imagination of the people carrying it about.”
While admitting that the Ethiopian aircraft that was showcased as the success of the project was chartered, Sirika said the government did not pay for the aircraft as it was brought by Ethiopian Airlines to demonstrate their commitment to the project.
“The AOC owned by Ethiopian Airline is known to Nigeria and the NCAA, they are permitted to come in either with scheduled passengers, chattered or cargo. They have to come in under one of the 3. So, they came as chartered. Being chartered does not mean that anybody paid for anything. The government did not pay a dime for that aircraft to come in.
“Secondly, there was no revenue passenger in the aircraft because that would have been totally against the law and wouldn’t have been allowed. It was their own marketing strategy as equity partners. They came to do this unveiling on a special allowance called chartered and it does not mean that we paid for it. If anybody was to pay for it, it would have been the Ethiopian Airline, not the Nigerian government. No penny was paid,” the former Minister said.