The Crucial Need to Rally Behind Allen Onyema’s Air Peace

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By Philip Agbese

As a concerned citizen deeply invested in our nation’s economic prosperity, I find it imperative to shed light on the paramount importance of rallying behind Allen Onyema and recognising the aviation sector as a pivotal gateway to our much-needed economic breakthrough.

Meanwhile, the views expressed in this piece are not representative of the parliament, but rather reflect the fervent belief in the necessity of awakening the sleeping giant that is our aviation industry. It is a great concern to me. Being a deep cut in my heart, and in the heart of every other patriotic citizen, it is imperative that such charades done by foreign countries need to be addressed as soon as possible.

It is commendable to note that, the central bank governor has been so helpful in supporting our indigenous flight carriers to start international operations, in a bid to save money for the country. But unfortunately, foreign nations aren’t allowing us into their country as much as a small fraction are being permitted into ours. Nigerians have been spending more money than any other country for the same distance miles of flight.

In the last 25 years, people from South Africa have been paying a lesser fee for a 9hrs flight to London in comparison to Nigeria’s 6hrs flight to the same London. It’s such a despicable act and a conscious wickedness of the highest order.

The current state of Nigerian aviation is unacceptable. Foreign airlines exploit us to the detriment of our economy. They enjoy a disproportionate number of flights into Nigeria while stifling our own airlines’ access to their markets. This is economic sabotage, plain and simple, and these are the reasons behind the fight for Justice by Allen Onyema; the chief executive officer of Air Peace.

Turning our attention to the indispensable task of bolstering Allen Onyema as a national asset, it is imperative to draw lessons from his unwavering patriotism and dedication, particularly during the challenging times brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Onyema’s selfless efforts to evacuate our citizens from foreign countries exemplify his commitment to the well-being of our people and the nation at large.

He flew to these locations to evacuate stranded Nigerians. It’s time for a collective response. We must stand tall and reclaim our economic sovereignty. Supporting Allen Onyema, the visionary behind Air Peace, is the first crucial step.

Furthermore, it is essential to commend Minister Festus Keyamo for his remarkable achievements in recent times, which unequivocally demonstrate that there are no limits to our success when provided with a conducive environment. We, like his mentors, know Keyamo’s tenacity and dedication. His commendable stewardship at the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace has not only been a testament to his capabilities but has also served as an inspiration to many who recognize his unwavering dedication to the advancement of our aviation sector.

Minister Keyamo has also been a strengthening voice in this fight for more recognition of indigenous flight, just like its foreign counterpart. During his facility tour of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, the Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo spoke about the dilemma in BASA agreements, saying that if the foreign airlines’ operations in Nigeria are stopped, air travellers would suffer; but foreign airlines are enjoying the frequencies in Nigeria which they cannot give to Nigerian airlines. Keyamo insisted that there must be a midway where the foreign airlines would be accommodated as well as also create opportunities for domestic carriers.

In addition, it is crucial to address the detrimental impact of foreign airlines on our citizens and our economy. These entities not only pose a threat to our national interests but also perpetuate economic sabotage, thereby necessitating a critical examination of their actions and the need to hold them accountable for their exploitative practices.

Arik Air once battled the British airport authorities when they refused to grant it the Abuja-London route and insisted that the Nigerian airline must pay for slots. But British Airways did not do the same in its operations from London to Lagos and from London to Abuja, same as UK-based Virgin Atlantic Airways, which does not pay for slots in its London-Lagos operations. Arik Air was forced to pay for slots and while the two British Airlines operated 21 flights a week, Arik Air was operating about four flights a week.

The Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) which strengthens countries’ aviation relationships, and helps in the repartition of funds, and its disbursity, has been disrespected, and ridiculed by these foreign countries. They didn’t respect the BASA they signed with Nigeria. One of the countries from the Middle East is doing up to 21 frequency weekly into Nigeria, and we had to fight for it, but just one was granted to Air Peace. UK has 21 frequencies in Nigeria, while Nigeria has none in the UK. They even dare to ask us to stop requesting any and will get to us whenever they are ready.

There have been numerous cases where these foreign countries employ diverse dirty tricks to delay our local carrier flights. They first use Immigration; then they insist on searching every piece of luggage in the aircraft, just to delay the flights so that it would lose its on-time performance record.

Such could be likened to an incident that happened about two years ago when Air Peace started flight service to Sharjah. UAE inspectors at the airport started a long search that culminated in just the replacement of a small bulb in the aircraft. Consequently, the flight was delayed for hours. These evil tactics have always been perpetuated by foreign countries just to discredit our indigenous flights, and further discourage citizens from using them.

The question we are asking the concerned bodies in Nigeria is, “Why should Nigerians be paying N2.3 million naira for economy tickets to board foreign airlines to London, while our indigenous airlines like Air Peace are willing to charge N500,000 for the same?” Why should we be treated unjustly, while they get good treatment from us?

The absurdity of this boring drama needs to stop, and that is why we need to give our unwavering support to the main face (Allen Onyema) behind this struggle because he deserves it. Allen Onyema can be easily described as:

A Champion of Nigerian Aviation: Air Peace, under his leadership, has become a symbol of national pride. It’s a vibrant, homegrown airline that creates jobs, boosts tourism, and challenges the dominance of foreign carriers.

A Committed Patriot: Onyema prioritizes Nigerians. He has consistently offered competitive fares, making travel more accessible to our citizens. During the pandemic, he demonstrated his commitment by evacuating Nigerians free of charge.

A Catalyst for Economic Growth: A thriving domestic airline industry fosters economic diversification. Air Peace creates a ripple effect, stimulating related sectors like hospitality, tourism, and logistics.

However, it is worthy of note to state that Allen Onyema’s fight isn’t just for Air Peace alone, but it’s for all of Nigeria’s domestic carriers. It is a fight for every one of us to pick up, and this is where we, the citizens, come in.

As a concerned patriotic citizen, I believe here are a few things we can do to support Allen Onyema and the Nigerian aviation sector:

Public Advocacy: This will help to raise awareness about the lopsided practices of foreign airlines. Let your voice be heard through social media, letters to the editor, and public discussions.

Support Domestic Travel: We need to choose to fly Nigerian airlines whenever possible. Rich Nigerians and top officials should understand that a preference for patronizing foreign airlines over domestic carriers on international routes is a sabotage to our economy. Irrespective of our position or office, our hardened support in patronizing our own will send a powerful message and strengthen our domestic carriers.

Demand Fair Practices: We need to urge the government to create a level playing field for Nigerian airlines. Advocate for policies that encourage competition and protect our national interests.

By uniting behind Allen Onyema and Air Peace, we can achieve several things:

Economic Empowerment: A robust domestic aviation sector fuels economic growth and job creation. It positions Nigeria as a regional aviation hub, attracting investment and foreign exchange.

National Pride: Supporting a homegrown success story like Air Peace fosters a sense of national pride. It demonstrates our ability to compete on the global stage.

Global Influence: A strong Nigerian aviation industry strengthens our position in international negotiations. We can demand fairer treatment for our airlines and citizens.

The time has come to put an end to the friendly sabotage of our economy. We can’t keep enriching other people’s economies at the expense of the growth of our economy. It is business, and they should understand that they need us as much as we need them.

The time has come for a unified and concerted effort to rectify the prevailing challenges within our aviation sector, with a particular emphasis on extending our support to Allen Onyema. This is an opportune moment for collective action, and it is incumbent upon us to seize the momentum and embark on a transformative journey toward a more vibrant and resilient aviation industry that reflects the true potential of our nation. It’s time for us to awaken the sleeping giant, claim our rightful place in the global aviation sector, and unlock the path toward economic prosperity.

By doing so, we can collectively endeavour to rectify the existing inadequacies and pave the way for a more robust and prosperous aviation industry that serves the best interests of our nation. This is the time to get it right, and starting with Allen Onyema will be apt. This is a call to action and sustained commitment. Let’s make Nigeria soar!

Agbese MHR, the Deputy Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, writes from Abuja.