Published On: Thu, Aug 10th, 2017

Arik: Fixing the wings of a giant bird

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By Aisevbo Uwadiae

After a decade of dominating the aviation industry in Nigeria as the largest local carrier, Arik Airline is engulfed in mortal crisis, which has set it on the same old path of many defunct Nigerian airlines like Nigerian Airways, Okada Air, Kabo Airlines, ADC Airlines, and Concord Airlines. There were also Sosoliso Airlines, Oriental Airlines, Okada Air, Triax Airlines, ADC Airlines, Air Nigeria, Albarka Air, Al-Dawood Air and Amako Air all of which passed the difficult route Arik has found itself now and never came out alive. The difference is, like Aero Contractors five years ago, Arik has been provided with a lifeline by Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON). In this lies the hope of serious and genuine re-birth.
But ever since the change of management at Arik, the Nigerian media have been replete with claims and counter-claims about the infractions that prompted AMCON to take over the management of the airline. From all the evidence before the general public, I find the position of the owners of Arik preposterous to say the least. What they seem to want is maintenance of a status quo despite the welter of incontrovertible evidences that it is indebted to high heavens to an array of creditors.
AMCON has reeled out the many justifications for the takeover. They include the publicly acknowledged failure to serve its customers ranging from frequent delays or outright cancellation of the flights; then you have the airline’s failure to pay its staff; and its fight with the aviation workers’ union, which recently saw its offices across the country being picketed. Other infractions less known to the public include failure to remit deducted taxes; failure to service its mounting loans; and bad corporate governance.
Arik may want to claim, like most businesses, that it started on a humble note. But we are all living witnesses to its favoured acquisition of the premises of the defunct Nigerian Airways at the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos.
Given the links of its billionaire Chairman; Sir. Johnson Arumemi-Ikhide, to the powers-that-be at its inception, it was easy for him to obtain a surfeit of credits for its ambitious expansion. That is probably the beginning of Arik’s problems – the growth was too phenomenal in scope and incredible in pace to be typical!
It is from his name that Arik, that West Africa’s largest commercial airline, derives its own. At the peak of its operations, Ark was operating a fleet of 23 state-of-the art regional, medium haul and long haul aircraft including two Airbus A340-500, making the airline the “first operator of the wide bodied aircraft in Africa.” But, as has been mentioned earlier, in running the company, Sir Arumemi-Ikide apparently didn’t care a hoot about good governance in putting his 39-year old son Michael in charge of the business. I’m told he has a similar arrangement in place at Rockson Engineering, which is also challenged.
The young man in charge of Arik brandishes his Imperial College Business School, credentials – as he does in his LinkedIn profile. As principal Company Director and founder of the business and the fact “I was fully responsible for envisioning, defining, structuring and starting-up the company from ground-zero,” he beats his chest. And, yes, he was at the start of the business in April 2007, “the sole employee.” But do these make him the most qualified candidate for the headship of such a huge business that aspired to compete with the likes of other brands like KLM, Ethiopian Airs, Virgin Atlantics, etc?
There is also the fact that the Arumemi-Ikhides are an overconfident lot. One is compelled to ask: Did they not know about the fate of local airlines before them –Weren’t they aware of the factors that led to or leads to the collapse of airline business in Nigeria? What was the aviation wizardry they were hoping to conjure to break the cycle of morbidity and mortality in the sector?
Billionaire business men like Sir Arumemi-Ikhide should be thankful to the federal government of Nigeria for setting up institutions like AMCON, which is there to step in when businesses are overwhelmed by their non-performing loans. AMCON always intervenes to save businesses from outright extinction and hapless Nigerians from losing the hard-to-come-by jobs. AMCON intervene not only to save businesses themselves but often to prevent systemic collapse of the industry they belong to, as we have seen when it intervened a few years ago in the banking sector.
But my fear is that the idea of AMCON giving itself a period of six months to turn things around in the place is a tall order! In orthopedic terms, it ought to take much longer to fix the broken wing of a giant bird. Indeed, fixing the “Wings of Nigeria” cannot be a hurried operation! Nigerians and members of the international community who have enjoyed the services of Arik Air over the years, regardless of what they have to say about the quality of these services, hope that the owners of the organization will, one day, take control of their business. But they want it to be a better-run business. No one wishes Arik to just die like that.

Uwadiae is social commentator based in Benin City.Arik Air

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