Protect Air Peace from foreign strangulation

Britain colonised Nigeria and some African countries for centuries. The colonial masters granted Nigeria political independence on October I,1960. Since then, Nigeria and Britain have been ostensibly having a good bilateral relationship in politics and economic growth and development.

However, certain incidents in the past have raised concerns as to whether Nigeria was truly granted economic independence along with political independence in 1960. Concerns and events which have raised eyebrows if Nigeria is truly free from Britain’s economic stranglehold are replete but one of them would suffice in this piece.

In the aviation sector of the economy, Nigeria and Britain voluntarily signed an agreement which is known as Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA). This agreement entails that Nigerian- owned airlines should be permitted to land in British primary airports like Heathrow while also British-owned airlines should be permitted access to Nigerian primary airports like Abuja and Lagos international airports.

Paradoxically, the British government has been observing this voluntary agreement in the breach whereas Nigeria has been complying fully with the agreement. The Nigerian government allows British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and other airlines to be doing business in both Abuja and Lagos international airports.

Air Peace airline, owned by a Nigerian compatriot, Allen Onyema, sought international flight to the United Kingdom for over seven good years without success. A lot of bureaucratic bottlenecks and aero politics were strewn on its path to grant Air Peace airline access to the lucrative Lagos- London route. The airline faced a lot of bitter politics and recriminations from both Nigeria and Britain to make his dream come true.

Against the foregoing, when the dream of Air Peace finally became real under the present government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on March 30, 2024, most Nigerians of good faith were elated about the event. The British government most perfunctorily granted Air Peace access to the Gatwick airport in southern London against the airline’s will for the Heathrow airport in central London. Nonetheless, it was not a mean feat by Air Peace.

Curiously, immediately Air Peace entered into the lucrative Lagos- London route, foreign airlines, which have been milking Nigerians and exploiting them, devised a devious scheme to frustrate Air Peace airline out of business. Their most  latest strategy is to crash their fares below what Air Peace is charging. Before the entrance of Air Peace airline into that busiest international route, these exploitative foreign airlines were charging as high as over N5 million for the economy class for a journey of six hours. Their business class was as high as N16 million. Air Peace airline crashed the economy class to as low as 1.4 million.

These exploitative foreign airlines are reportedly reducing their economy class to N600,000 from their hitherto N4 million. Shouldn’t this be an eye opener to the Nigerian government that without the intervention of Air Peace airline, these monopolistic foreign airlines would have continued to exploit Nigerian travelers? When was the last time these foreign airlines reduced their fares prior to Air Peace airline intervention? Doesn’t their latest action of fares reduction clearly show that their intention is to drive Air Peace airline out of that route just the same way they supposedly chased Arik, Bellview and other Nigerian-owned airlines out of that route?

If Nigeria’s struggling economy must grow, the Nigerian government must protect and support local entrepreneurs against foreign monopoly and strangulation. The Nigerian government demonstrated this aphorism during the telecommunication era. Without the intervention of Globacom, which is owned by a Nigerian, foreign telecommunication outfits would have exploited Nigerians unquantifiable. It was Globacom that made it possible for Nigerians to be billed per second. Foreign competitors said that it was not possible until Glo made it possible and they followed suit. These foreign telecommunication outfits are careful with Nigerian consumers today because Nigerians have an alternative in Globacom.

Nigerian government must protect and save Air Peace airline from strangulation through tax rebate and even subsidy payment to stop the monopoly of the foreign airlines in London-Lagos route. Nigerians stranded in London can never be brought back to the country free of charge by these exploitative foreign airlines but Air Peace airline can do that in the event of an emergency. The airline had done that in the past when Nigerians stranded in South African xenophobic attacks, those in the Russia/Ukraine war, Sudan, among others, were airlifted back to the country free of charge by Air Peace airline.

Air Peace airline’s intervention in the Lagos- London route should be seen in the context of the Nigerian Super Eagles playing in the World Cup football tournament which usually unites all Nigerians irrespective of tribe and religion. The situation Air Peace has found itself should elicit concerted outrage against foreign airlines and should never be viewed from ethnic prism. In any case, when will a Nigerian airline survive foreign conspiracy if the Nigerian government doesn’t support it or should we surrender to foreign airlines forever in that airline route?

Ifeanyi Maduako,

Owerri, Imo state

[email protected]