By Danladi Maigida
When Arik Airline first began operations in Nigeria, it quickly became a household name. ‘Wings of Nigeria’ it was called. With airline services reaching different states in Nigeria. Today however, recent investigations have shown that nothing could be further from the truth. Arik Air, as we speak, flies upon the wings of Nigeria.
Most users simply grumble about the airline’s notorious habit of operating different flight routes and schedules as well as selling the same class and booking codes of tickets to people at various prices at the same time at the airport. Another significant case of irregularity involved a staff of Arik Airline rummaging through the belongings of a notable blogger who was a passenger on-board to steal his Ipad. But even these are trifles where latest developments are concerned.
Today, some officials of Arik Airline face an outstanding trial in a cocaine smuggling case at the London Heathrow airport. Arik Air also faces pending tax-related corruption charges from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The company owes the Nigerian Aviation parastatals over N12bn and owes close to 2000 of its Nigerian employees in Nigeria well over four months in arrears of unpaid salaries.
Besides rescheduled flight schedules and billing systems Arik Air no doubt stands as one of the most fascinating private entities in Nigeria. Fascinating because the airline is neck deep in debt, corruption, financial irregularities and improper practices, and yet it still stands. It is yet to see a court order forcing it towards liquidation.
Perhaps why this is possible is because Arik Air, like so many anti-development agencies in Nigeria has built solid personal interest networks aimed at thwarting the growth of the aviation sector and subsequently developments in the interest of the greater Nigerian population. This it has demonstrated in several ways.
Early this year, the airline’s refusal to engage in standard procedure of maintaning its aircrafts as required by the Airline Maintenance Organization led to the grounding of three of its airplanes by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), airplanes which were originally used in its local operations.
The action by Arik Air does not signify inefficiency or inexperience; rather it depicts a consciously bold and rational approach towards actions which are illegal and punishable under the Nigerian constitution. If anything, the refusal by aviation authorities to impose stricter sanctions on the airline has to be brought to question.
Arik Air like so many organizations in Nigeria only survive because they exist in Nigeria, otherwise standard procedures and basic requirements by regulatory authorities in other parts of the world are necessities which any agency in line with the development goals of a country ought to adhere to.
The failure of Arik Air to do this not only shows the company’s unwillingness to aid the development of Nigeria, but also begs that the company should no longer be allowed to maintain the mantra ‘Wings of Nigeria’, as its actions indicate, ‘Flying on the Wings of Nigeria’ should be a better substitute. These wings need to be clipped. Arik Air must not be allowed to fly higher than the law.
*Atim Akem Asim is a journalist and social activist