ENCOUNTER: ARIK AIR: NCAA HAS QUESTIONS TO ANSWER…Owolabi

Your views about the fate of Arik Air.

Gentlemen, I am very happy to see you. It has been some time. You know, one has been moving in and out. When you are an aviator there is no way you can shy away from your responsibility when issues of national interest come up. I am glad you are here and you want me to comment on Arik Air.

What the..I won’t say the government, because it is a branch of the government, the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), what they did. Nobody will be owing and then you will be keeping quiet. But the question is: how long have they been able to monitor them to that stage? What advice which we believe, they must have been given to them on how they should be able to manage up? While they were doing that were they doing it successfully? If the answer is in the affirmative, then they wouldn’t have been able to take it over. If the answer is in the negative, then something is wrong somewhere. I believe the Chairman of Arik Air is a respectable man that I love so much. I believe that he had a mission before he decided to set upArik Air. But he met a lot of challenges that I felt that should have been handled by professionals and he thought he could do it on his own that resulted to this issue. I will give examples. My stake is that he never believed that there are Nigerians who could do more than the expatriates that they brought here. But some of our people believe that once you are an expatriate you have all the nose (?) I have worked in Rome and I did not take a Nigerian there to come and work under me. I have worked in Londonas Executive, I did not take a Nigerian to work under me. I have worked in the United States of America and Canada and I have some, I have more than 50, some, we have more than 70 people, some we have more than 100. In all those areas we have been successful. So I believe that we have, of a fact today if you get to America, in any of the hospitals, either as gynecologists or specialists or anything, you see Nigerians there. We should try as much as possible to believe what belongs to us that are good. That is coming to say that whoever is given such an opportunity should not take advantage that being a Nigerian because you are working for a Nigerian you should be able to do it well and to the best of your satisfaction and leave the rest to God. I think most of these things are the vexed issues; having the feeling that having Nigerians as Engineers, having Nigerians as Captains, would not augur well for him. I think he went wrong in that action. All the other aspects, I think the man has tried but too much water that flows. It was too much for him to gather. The government regulation: high tariffs, and service. Service is the most essential aspect when you have any airline in the world having delays everyday, having delays especially on an international route. When you disappoint a passenger you are disappointing about 50 people. I will tell you how.

As soon as he comes down he tells his agent: please don’t book me on this flight anymore. Why? Oh, I suffered a lot. The agent will accept because you have the right to choose whatever you want. To his friends he says: oh, my brother, you see what goes on today; I suffered a lot. There was somebody who could have been in the marriage of my brother; he couldn’t come in two, three days later. Multiply that. The person you reported this thing to is not going to assume that he was not the one that was disappointed. My brother, don’t buy this ticket; don’t buy it. They disappointed A, B, C. So you can see the trend: how the thing continues.  So to have a genuine constructive airline, their service must be very very high. That is very essential. You can see what happens. And that is one.

Why I said AMCON, they came late, not even late, the approach was wrong. They do not only owe AMCON. They owe other banks. They owe about two, three or four banks. It is not only AMCON they owe. When you decide to raise the flag the way they have done, then we are heading to a rock.  That is what happened to Air Nigeria even though Air Nigeria was mismanaged by the owner. When they wanted to have a turn-around I understand he was able to employ just a few people that I know both in fina

Dr Olu Owolabi poses with journalists after an interview session in Lagos recently

nce and in administration and in flying ; very very junior officials in Air Nigeria that could have turned that place around. But because he has his own agenda; so he couldn’t do that. On this issue now, as the flight is being suspended in some of the routes there is a lot of challenges there. Don’t forget that your regulation in your country is different from other countries. Before you can enter the United States you have to pay deposit for Customs, you have to pay deposit fotImmigration; you have to pay deposit for a lot of things at the airport. These deposits you pay is the cost of what you use.Going back you have a lot of disappointed people which you had in December. From December to January. Anybody can go to Court in America and get their pay. Having disappointed a number of customers in terms of their coming, in terms of their wedding, in terms of the burial of their people; then you know what that means. That is why it could have been much better to handle things in a different way. They want to salvage what they owe but it is going to be triple because the money is not put into it. Nobody can salvage it which means they owe here and there must be negotiated and I am sure they will demand for first or second payment before they allow their aircraft to return. The stage one, as people are saying that AMCON has taken over. They have not even started. I, OluOwolabi, is saying that because of the other agencies that do not belong to Nigeria. You have the overflying; you have all other aspects of the agencies. I am not here trying to create uneasiness but that is the truth about it.  And if you want to take over such an ailing airline, there is no way you will ask the owner to be out. You have to get him involved but not to have the authority to do certain things. It is the authority you are taking away from him. You cannot take away from him certain information that we need. We know the pitfalls. There is no way you can do that because I understand that it was very difficult for him even to enter the place. That is not the issue. You need him even at this trying period. He is needed. And how?For him to assist. And when you want to take over or salvage an airline or a company of this nature you need people that have been tested to be able to come together. Not only just one; those you know that have been tested, known to have done so many other things on service delivery, consultants in finance, in administration, in handling, in marketing and so on and so forth. They must be able to come together as a team to salvage what is expected for them to do; that is to turn around. You want to turn around then you need them, you need these things. That is not yet in the set-up. I am very sure the banks were not taken into consideration when they went to do what they’ve done. The banks too, the banks outside AMCON, need to be involved in exactly how to salvage this. If not, everything you think that belongs to us, which is our money that was infused into this will go into oblivion like Air Nigeria. And you can see that Air Nigeria, up till today, is still lingering with problems. For instance, all the staff that was laid off has not been paid off till today. The companies which Air Nigeria owed which I know some; some of the handling companies which Air Nigeria owed about N80 or N82 million. Not a penny has been recovered. So you can imagine Air Nigeria with such an issue and compare with Arik Air that has so many routes. That is why we believe that before it is getting late they should ensure that professionals are called together to salvage it. It is not a one man issue to solve. While I strongly believe in the leadership of the man that is asked to be there he has to have in mind that there are other Nigerians as Engineers, Captains and so on that have to be of help in this dispensation.

NCAA needs to answer questions regarding the fate of Arik Air.

That is very correct. I remember very well that once you owe, every month the creditors will send a letter to NCAA. So, so, so and so airline is owing me so much. It’s just for their information because by the time you want to take steps to recover your money, then it will disrupt the activities of the airport (?) and it will disrupt the activities of the airline that you want to picket. So it is mandatory that every month when you write for your money, demanding your money, you copy NCAA, so that they are well aware. You need to find out what they were doing up till now till the last minute and certain actions are being taken. Then you start running helter skelter. And they will start cutting heads that are supposed not even to be touched. Why must they wait? They knew about it that they were having problems. They knew that Arik Air was having problems. They knew that some of the airlines are having problems. But they sent messages to them in form of Memo every month which I am aware, except it has been stopped. That is why I said, and that is the duty of NCAA. It is not only to regulate only; it should look after the welfare of passengers, the welfare of the staff, for safety of the aircraft so that it cannot be manipulated. It goes a long way. That is why I am very sure that NCAA should have been asked a few questions on these issues and how they should answer it.

Are you not bothered that AMCON’s involvement in Aero could not resolve their issue and now they have another airline in their hands?

That is why I did not want to mention Aero; not because of anything. The one already that has been buried which is Air Nigeria. What they have done to Aero; Aero has a lot of problems, both staff problems, internal problems with management problems. It’s the same way. When Aero was having these issues, NCAA was aware that Aero was having problems. What did they do? Yes, in Nigeria, it’s who you know or who is who. But it comes to a stage that whether you know the Head of State it cannot solve your problem especially when the bubble begin to burst. That you know A, you’re afraid of doing the right thing, then the result; you should be able to face it. I am sure Aero, whatever the way things are dilapidating now, it’s because of their offshore contacts they have. Not because of what AMCON has done. No! That is why they are still managing those links here and there. It’s because of their offshore operations that, at least, do give them something just to get back. And you know the limit; I don’t want to go into stories. Even their engines; they have two engines in some of their aircraft, one belongs to one company and the other belongs to another company. At what rate per hour would they negotiate it? So there is a lot of stinking things that people do. May be they are afraid to be able to say the truth. But that is what Aero is going through. The way Aero is now, if care is not taken….That is why we are shouting out now; that Arik will follow suit. Absolutely, there is no way of shutting out the owner out of that place. He must be involved in the turn around. Authority, no; not from him. But he has a lot of ideas that must have happened. Whatever decision they have taken, may be at the point of issues. You cannot blame that. So those things that I think are needed for the committee or for the special turn around team that they will be able to do to salvage the situation.