Departing Nigerian President Apparently Created Fake Airline as Final Act in Office

According to the Nigerian legislature, departing President Muhammadu Buhari created a fake airline as his final act in office. Buhari even managed to arrange the flight of a lone aircraft bearing the livery of the nonexistent Nigeria Air before taking his final bow.

Buhari took office in 2015, returning to power after presiding over a junta government in the 1980s. His election over incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 was the first electoral defeat of an incumbent president in Nigerian history.

The Associated Press

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari gestures to supporters after casting his vote in his hometown of Daura, in northern Nigeria Saturday, February 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

The 80-year-old president’s two four-year terms were declared a comprehensive disaster by the BBC in May, as he left Nigerians “less secure, poorer, and more in debt,” and failed to keep his promises to “curtail the rampaging Islamist insurgency in the north-east and tackle widespread corruption.”

Buhari will be replaced by 71-year-old President Bola Tinubu, who is a member of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Tinubu won a contentious election in February criticized by international observers and unsuccessfully contested by the other leading candidates. Tinubu was sworn in on May 29.

The Associated Press

President-Elect Bola Tinubu, center-left, is congratulated by party dignitaries after receiving his certificate at a ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Buhari and his Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, announced in 2018 they would establish a national air carrier in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, which would have a 49-percent stake in the new operation. Sirika constantly promised the launch of Nigeria Air was imminent, pending the resolution of a few legal obstacles that were somehow never cleared away.

Sirika met in February with Ethiopian Airlines chairman Girma Wake to discuss the much-delayed launch of Nigerian Air. The Nigerian aviation minister emerged from that meeting with promises that the airline would fly before Buhari left office.

“Regarding Nigeria Air, yes, we are on course; and by the Grace of God, before President Muhammadu Buhari leaves office, it will fly. We are on course; before May 29, Nigeria Air will fly,” Sirika said two weeks before Tinubu was sworn in.

On May 26, a Boeing 737-800 bearing the livery of Nigeria Air did indeed appear on a runway in South Africa and later flew to Nigeria. Lawmakers cried foul, insisting the airline still had not commenced operations, and the plane unveiled just before Buhari left office was a fraud.

African journalists did some digging and discovered the 737 was in fact a ten-year-old Ethiopian Airlines plane chartered for the “unveiling” flight and repainted with the colors of the non-existent Nigerian Air. Reporters who reviewed the plane’s registration paperwork said there was no change of ownership for the plane, a detail confirmed by Capt. Dapo Olumide, the acting managing director for Nigeria Air installed by the departing Buhari.
Olumide told a Nigerian Senate aviation committee on Tuesday that Nigeria Air still does not have a license for full flight operations, and the process to obtain them is still in the “early stages.” Olumide said one of the obstacles is that Nigeria Air is presently three planes short of the three planes it needs to own to secure a license.

The aircraft that came in and left was a legitimate charter flight. Anyone of us here if we have a destination wedding in Senegal, we can charter an aircraft,” the captain explained.

“You don’t need to have a license to do that, you just charter an aircraft, an aircraft you paid for it, it will be brought here, take your passengers and off you go, and that is what we did. but in this case, it was to unveil the logo of Nigeria Air,” he said.

“Ever since 2018, all you have ever seen about Nigeria Air were pictures, drawings not the real aircraft, and we thought it was time to show what the real aircraft will look like, also to let shareholders see,” he said.

Olumide insisted the Boeing 737 stunt was not intended to deceive the public, but the “social media dimension” came into play, and for some reason “learned people in the aviation industry” did not counter the rapidly spreading disinformation that portrayed the plane as property of a fully operational Nigeria Air.

Lawmakers castigated Olumide for failing to inform the aviation committee about the plan to charter an Ethiopian plane and paint it with Nigeria Air’s logo, even though Olumide gave frequent testimony to the Senate and was always greeted with “respect.”

Nigeria’s Point Blank News on Wednesday quoted reports that passengers actually bought tickets for the first Nigeria Air flight, but in fact they were merely Ethiopian Airline staff whose job was to bring the 737 home after Olumide was finished showing it off. Point Blank News was among the Nigerian media outlets that regarded all of this as a deliberate “scam” rather than a misunderstanding.

The waters were further muddied by a letter sent by Senior Advocate of Nigeria Nureni Jimoh to Buhari two weeks before he left office, insisting the outgoing president halt a plan by Aviation Minister Sirika to violate court orders by flying two unlicensed planes under the Nigeria Air banner. Sirkia was allegedly planning to pretend Nigeria Air was up and running so he could claim he and Buhari had fulfilled their promises to launch the airline before the president left office.

Nigerian House Committee on Aviation chair Nnolim Nnaji called the Nigeria Air launch a “fraud” on Tuesday, pointing out that major stakeholders in the long-gestating deal between the Nigerian government and Ethiopian Airlines have denied all knowledge of the liveried aircraft demonstration flight. This would seem to contradict Olumide’s assertion that the liveried plane was mocked up to keep the stakeholders interested.


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