drawn-out battle

Nigeria Air fuels stand-off between Hadi Sirika, Allen Onyema

By Nelly Fualdes

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Posted on May 31, 2023 14:01

A surprise announcement of Nigeria Air’s demonstration flight by Hadi Sirika, Nigeria’s aviation minister who served under ex-president Muhammadu Buhari, came despite a court order barring the airline from flying, indicating that a protracted legal battle against the proposed carrier is anything but over.

Sirika announced on 25 May that the demonstration flight of Nigeria Air, which has not officially launched, would be take place before 29 May, the day President Bola Tinubu was sworn in. 

The demonstration flight was denied by civil aviation authorities because the plane is registered in Ethiopia, we have learned. Ethiopian Airlines, which holds a majority in Nigeria Air, was not immediately available for comment.

The flight was replaced by a static display as a dedicated ceremony took place to unveil, not launch, Nigeria Air. 

During the ceremony at Abuja Airport, the airline’s logo was also revealed, emblazoned on a Boeing 737 MAX: a green and white ribbon floating in the wind. 


The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has sent a memo to the federation’s attorney general, according to Nigeria’s Guardian. Allen Onyema, who founded Nigeria’s main operator Air Peace in 2013, and his counterparts at Max Air, Azman Air, and United Nigeria Airlines are members of AON.

Onyema’s lawyer and one of his colleagues point out that on 15 November 2022, the Nigerian Federal High Court issued an interim order halting the process of setting up Nigeria Air.

The legal proceedings are based on accusations of a conflict of interest in the allocation of shares, which are supposed to be distributed as follows: 

  • 49% for Ethiopian Airlines;
  • 46% for the Nigerian operators MRS Oil and Gas and Skyway Aviation Handling Company Plc (SAHCO);
  • and 5% for the federal government.

The Nigerian transport operators describe Sirika’s announcement as a last-minute disobedience of a court decision. They affirm that they will continue their legal action against the minister, who is accused of being linked to one of the companies that advised on the deal, whether or not he has left office.


For Sindy Foster, a senior partner at Avaero Capital Partners, which assists aviation and aerospace companies, these twists and turns are “insane”. 

“By displaying an aircraft in the colours of Nigeria Air, [Sirika] is giving the impression that the airline has been launched and is trying to impose this project, with all its shortcomings, on the new administration. If the new administration doesn’t go ahead with it, it will be seen to have failed,” she says.

She adds that what happened on 26 May can “in no way constitute the launch of an airline, because Nigeria Air has not received its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC), merely an air operator’s licence. However, the AOC is essential to operate as an airline”.

It is very unlikely that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) would completely bypass the procedure

In her view, the legal proceedings halted the process after the first of the five stages required to obtain the AOC. In particular, several crucial items – CVs for the prospective managers, a review of the applicant’s premises, and various demonstrations (flight, emergency evacuation, ditching, etc). – are missing.

“It is very unlikely that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) would completely bypass the procedure,” says Foster.

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