The All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State, Akan Udofia, says he and former Governor Godswill Akpabio are the brains behind Ibom Air.
The revelation by Udofia was in response to the airline being hailed as an achievement of incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel, to be sustained by his intended successor, Umo Eno of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However, Udofia, while sharing his vision in a live interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Tuesday, downplayed the economic benefits of the airline, saying a government’s businesses is not to run airlines.
“They talk about Ibom Air. How many people does Ibom Air employ? How many aircrafts are flying? How many are in the air?” he asked.
Asked to share his view of Ibom Air as an achievement, Udofia said, “It’s marginal. I don’t know what you call ‘achievement’. I’ve been in the aviation industry for at least 13, 14 years.
“Ibom Air was mooted between myself and Godswill Akpabio in 2007. So, when I tell you with all conviction that I’ve been in the industry, I know what I’m talking about.
“Please, go to CAC [Corporate Affairs Commission], you’ll see Ibom Air was incorporated in 2008. Ibom Air is not today. It became operational in his [Udom Emmanuel’s] time.”
According to him, the incorporation of the airline was an investment, supported by the training of about 20 Akwa Ibom indigenes for air traffic control.
“As a minimum, that was the basic investment at the time,” Udofia said.
The APC candidate added that he trained the first female pilot in Akwa Ibom, having owned a jet for 14 years.
“I know what it is to keep those aircraft in the air. Besides refining, the aviation industry is the biggest loss-making industry in the world, and the only way you can break even, those aircraft must be in the air,” he said.
“I want somebody to tell me where they are flying to. I want somebody to show me that they are Air Peace. When we talk about Ibom Air, it’s just a means of transportation. I don’t think it’s a means of any kind of prosperity for anybody.”
But the entrepreneur has no plans to scrap the project. Rather, the government must reduce its operational and financial responsibilities.
“Of course, I’m going to go public-private partnership. The business of government is not to be running an airline. I’m going to focus on millennial goals – Sustainable Development Goals, that’s my responsibility as a government.
I have no business in marginal businesses. I will create an enabling environment for businessmen to come and run Ibom Air. That’s their business, not my business. My business is to grow my people,” he said.
Eno, the PDP governorship candidate, however, sees things differently. For him, Ibom Air is one of the state’s crown jewels that requires more investment.
“We’re strong; we’re the best airline in Nigeria today. We can keep it up and we can keep expanding,” he said in a separate appearance on Politics Today.
In his view, Akwa Ibom can now be seen as the home of Nigeria’s best airline as Ibom Air is growing.
“They have about seven aircraft, and now, we have ordered 10 new aircraft to come in. Delivery should start in 2023. And so, the plan is to gradually expand our operations and then begin to do the west coast,” Eno said.
Revealing plans to expand to “the west coast” where Nigeria’s busiest international terminal is located, the clergyman said there would be a brand new Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) in Akwa Ibom, which according to him is about to be commissioned.
According to him, the facility will attract other aircraft besides those of Ibom Air to stop over in Akwa Ibom for maintenance, “and then we can even maintain our own aircraft in that MRO.”
With plans for a cargo terminal in the state, Eno argued that the operations of the airline on the “west coast” would necessitate the construction of such a facility.