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Just a few months before Nigeria Airways finally ceased to exist, a series of diplomatic cables sent by the US embassy in Abuja detailed how senior Nigerian politicians remained blinded by their own hubris in respect of the country’s national flag carrier.
First up is an acount of a meeting between the then amabassador Howard Jeter and aviation minister Kema Chikwe, in which she revealed her ambitious plans for the faltering airline, and her opposition to privatisation plans for the airline (which had been abadoned by the World Bank in the previous year anyway).
Reference ID

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) This is an action cable. See paragraph 9.

2. (U) On August 15 Ambassador Jeter met Minister of
Aviation, Kema Chikwe to discuss the status of code sharing
requests by Northwest, Delta and American Airlines with
their European partners. The Minister assured the
Ambassador that Northwest would be approved as a code-
sharer with KLM, which began flights out of Abuja on August

3. (U) However, she said that American and Delta could not
be certified because they have not submitted paperwork
through the proper channels. Minister Chikwe stated that
she had not been informed that Delta and American were
designated under the U.S.-Nigerian Air Transport Agreement,
though they were listed in the same Diplomatic Note as
Northwest. In addition to the Diplomatic Note sent by the
Embassy, she stressed that American and Delta must write
directly to her requesting code-sharing approval. (See
paragraph 9 for action request)

4. (U) Minister Chikwe said while code-sharing is fine, she
preferred that U.S. carriers fly directly to Nigeria and
not under the code-sharing wing of European partners. The
Ambassador mentioned that previously he had encouraged a
delegation from the Ministry to visit the U.S. to discuss
with American carriers of the profitability of flying
direct to Nigeria. Before they invest, American carriers
must also be convinced of airport security and safety, he

5. (U) The Minister countered by revealing Nigerian
Airways' plans to dominate the Nigeria- U.S. route. To be
more competitive, Nigerian Airways is vastly upgrading its
fleet, acquiring nine new aircraft- two Boeing 747s and
seven 767s. In addition, the Minister said Nigerian Airways
is undergoing major organizational restructuring. Nigeria
Airways is doing better but not as well as she would like,
crediting its slower than hoped progress and continued
mismanagement. She cited the lack of cultural diversity and
importation of new ideas as the primary impediment to the
airline's development. The Minister revealed her plans to
hire an experienced international staff to manage the
airlines. Anticipating opposition to this effort to hire
managers of other nationalities, she said some Nigerians
might resent this effort because they fear competition.

4. (U) While Minister Chikwe wants to diversify staff, she
opposed privatizing Nigeria Airways. She said, Nigeria's
efforts to privatize have been a dismal failure.
Privatization should be sequential, Ministry by Ministry
and not all at once. Rapid privatization is a recipe for
disaster and leads to inevitable conflicts with the
Ministers, she continued. The Minister said all of BPE's
privatization efforts have failed, citing Nitel and
NigerDock as prime examples. The Bureau of Privatization
contemplated privatizing Nigeria Airways, despite the
Minister's opposition but desisted when the Vice President

5. (SBU) Comment: Although perhaps overly bureaucratic in
her position that U.S. carriers must write a letter
addressed directly to her, she did not seem to oppose code
sharing for our air carriers. The Minister also clearly
acknowledged the need for major improvements to the
operations of Nigerian Airways, which requires capital and
industry knowledge. At the same time, she adamantly opposed
its privatization. Subsequent to the meeting, newspapers
began reporting that the Aviation Ministry intended to sell
49 percent equity share of Nigerian Air to a United Kingdom
based leasing company, Airwing. This plan would seem to
fit Chikwe's desire for the GON to maintain the controlling
interest in the Airline yet still inject needed capital and
know-how into its operation. However, according to some
reports, Airwing has no experience in airline operations,
except in aircraft sales and leasing. If so, the approach
might not repair the airliner's management problem.
Additionally, questions have been raised about the legality
of this plan as it is not under the auspices of BPE's
formal privatization procedure.

9. (U) Action Requested: The Department is requested to
inform Delta and American Airlines that they must submit a
letter addressed to the Minister of Aviation requesting
code-sharing approval.


That was followed a few weeks later by revelations of how desperate the airline had become to get its hands on any sort of aircraft whatsoever.

Reference ID

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1.  (SBU) Summary: The wetlease agreement of Nigeria Airways
Limited (NAL) with Air Atlanta Icelandic (AAI) was set to expire on September 19, but was extended at the last minute.  The Ministry of Aviation had hoped until the last moment to replace NAL with a new national carrier, Air Nigeria, through a joint venture agreement with the UK-based Airwing Aerospace Limited (AAL).
Because Nigeria lacks ICAO's Category I safety status, however, NAL would not have been able to fly alone into the United States.  In addition, Air Nigeria could not have begun operations on September 20 because the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has not received documentation from the new airline.  Moreover, an inter-ministerial committee formed to advise the GON on the legitimacy of the proposed joint venture has yet to begin deliberations.  Had NAL failed to extend its current wetlease by September 20, operations on the popular Lagos-New York route would have been suspended.
The Ministry of Aviation has dodged that bullet, but still has a politically difficult row to hoe before Air Nigeria can lift off.  End Summary.
2. (U) On September 17, Abuja-based ECON FSN Specialist met
with Tony Anufor, Special Assistant to the Minister of Aviation, who asserted knowing nothing about plans to extend NAL's wetlease.  Anufor confirmed, however, that preparations for the new carrier have been put on hold pending the recommendation of the inter-ministerial committee that will review the proposed joint venture.
Initially, the Ministry had hoped that Air Nigeria might have begun operating on September 20 under the joint venture agreement.  Under it, the GON's equity share would have been 51 percent, secured through the liquidation of NAL assets.  Officials from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) informed EconOff that Airwing had planned on Singapore Airways' managing the operations. 
3. (U)  Early September 18, Chris Aligbe, Public Affairs Manager for NAL, informed Lagos-based EconOff that NAL intended to continue its Lagos-New York operations through an extension of NAL's actual wetlease.  NAL's Managing Director hoped to secure a deal with AAI within two days.  Aligbe expected the extension would be in effect until Air Nigeria receives GON approval of the joint venture and acquires FAA-approved equipment and crew.  Late September 18, Aligbe informed EconOff that Nigeria Airways had just extended its wetlease agreement with Air Atlanta, presumably until the issue about Air Nigeria is resolved.
4.  (SBU)  The future of the Air Nigeria deal remains uncertain.  After hearing of complaints by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, President Obasanjo established a twelve-person committee to review the agreement.  Members of the committee include representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Finance, Aviation, and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).  The BPE argues that the Ministry is challenging the BPE's privatization authority.  Contacts report that the BPE is engaged in discussions to sell NAL to a South African group.  This issue will most likely be reviewed by the committee, whose deliberations were to have begun on September 16, but were delayed until September 20 owing to the ongoing voter registration.
Denying press reports that the committee is investigating the Ministry of Aviation's actions in the deal, the Minister's Special Assistant characterized the accusations as "evil schemes of people who do not like (Minister Chikwe)."
5. (SBU) Comment:  Even if President Obasanjo has signed off on the joint venture agreement, as Minister Chikwe contends in the press, Air Nigeria's future is uncertain.  The inter-ministerial committee must review the agreement to ensure that it meets governmental guidelines, and the BPE is likely to recommend against approval.  End Comment.