Recently, the Nigeria Senate demanded that the Federal Government of Nigeria should revive the defunct Nigeria Airways before the end of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
It claimed that reviving the dead airline would address the present indiscriminate and unregulated increase in airfares.
However, understudying the rise and fall of Nigeria airways would often suggest that reviving the airline may not really be the best option giving the past irregularity in the system.
Establishment and flourishing of the nation’s airline
Nigeria Airways was established on the 23rd of August 1958, however, at the time of establishment, it was known as West African Airways Corporation Nigeria (WAAC Nigeria).
The airline was owned by Nigeria and The Elder Dempster Lines and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). Nigeria was the majority owner with 51% of the share whereas the Elder Dempster held 32.5% and BOAC held 16.5% of the share.
BOAC managed the airlines and thus provided the plane used for the first international route, from Lagos to London.
After the 1960 independence, the airline was solely controlled by the Nigerian government and BOAC completely withdrew itself from the operations in 1964. New routes were established and new aircrafts were added to the fleet.
The first plane crash took place in November 1969 on a flight from Kano to Lagos which claimed about 87 lives.
Furthermore, the airlines made expansion in the 1970s and also increased its staff strength. However, Nigeria signed a contract with America’s Trans World Airlines (TWA) which lasted for seven years and thus ended its deal with the British.
Demise and repeated fall of Nigeria Airways
After being managed by TWA, Nigeria Airways was managed by several other bodies including KLM and South African Airways.
The demise of the airline began just after being managed by KLM. During the reign of Shehu Shagari, the airline accumulated enormous debts and in fact at the end of the administration, the debts were even bigger than its revenue. To make the matter worse, the airline had an excessive number of staff with up to 500 staff for each plane.
By 1984, which corresponded to the reign of General Buhari, about nine of the aircraft were not serviceable and the airline had up to 8500 employees even though it had no need for most of them. As a matter of fact, few ideas were initiated during the administrations but these proved abortive.
Furthermore, the Nigerian government concentrated in cutting down the staff strength of the airline and culling some routes which were mostly African routes. Moreover, lots of employees were not paid and to make the matter worse, some of the employees even went as far as stealing some properties owned by the airline to sell and recoup for their losses and unpaid salaries.
As a matter of fact, Nigerian Airways deteriorated to a state which was even worse than what could be called “a humble beginning”. When it could have been a champion in the field, it was nowhere to be found and its safety issues had grown unbearable that it was banned by most Western destinations in 1997. To make the matter worse, the airline which had up to 30 aircraft when managed by KLM had only three aircraft after 20 years. This was a dead end.
The Nigerian government was evidently a bad manager and waster and could not be trusted by its counterparts in other parts of the world. The government tried to lease planes from other operators but pitifully, only Djibouti gave heed to the government.
Why the Demise
It is not difficult to identify the reason why Nigeria Airways crumbled. In fact, attempts to resuscitate the airline proved abortive because of the same reasons. It would not be wrong to assert that Nigerian aviation stakeholders only use the flag carrier as an opportunity to embezzle the public funds. Three major factors could be identified as basic in the demise of Nigeria Airways and these include corruption, poor management and the structure of airline’s ownership.
Furthermore, it can be identified that the Nigerian government is not only a bad manager in the aviation sector but also in most other sectors, including the oil and gas, as is evident in the fluctuations and backwardness of the Nigerian petroleum sector. Corruption is a very major drawback in the system. Due to corruption and poor management, the aircraft were haphazardly used for carrying government officials and personnel without paying. The officials even went as far as using the aircraft for personal and irrelevant purposes.
Nigeria Airways was murdered by its lack of funds, aids, grants, subsidies and supports. Inflated aircraft spare parts dealt a death blow on the airline. Foreign airlines were given priority but the interest of the national carrier was jettisoned. Rather than patronizing the airline, the government rather did the opposite, looted the carrier’s funds and ruined it.
Perhaps, the best thing that happened to Nigeria Airways was its deregulation and liberalization. Although the liberalization did not completely solve the problems facing the airlines, it made the management of the airlines accessible to private firms and individuals. This catered greatly for the problem of corruption and poor management.
It should be noted that most of the problems still facing the airlines are accumulation of its past woes. Of course, the airline can be revived but this would only come if concrete plan for its success is established right at the onset of the plan.