Ibom Air As Election-driven Venture And Scam

However it is approached, Udom Emmanuel’s recently announced  Ibom Air is nothing but a desperate, ill-motivated  election-eve venture that is bound to fail. It is also a scam intended to dispossess the state of its resources.

Sworn into office as governor  more than 42 months ago, Mr Emmanuel had all the time in the world to establish an airline, if he thought that doing so would improve the welfare of Akwa Ibom people. But he did no such thing. Rushing to do so now in the twilight of his tenure; with just four months to vacating office, raises for the umpteenth time, the question of his capacity to occupy an office that requires the ability  to plan, anticipate and execute.

In Udom Emmanuel we have a man; a professional accountant, banker, a self-acclaimed international business guru and graduate of elite global business schools, who was sworn in almost four years ago, as governor of a state that had made substantial investments in the aviation sector over some 16 years. He even served as Secretary to that same government for about two years before becoming governor himself. He could not be said to have been  unaware of those investments. Yet he came into office without a roadmap on how to lift  that effort to the next logical level.  Or if he believed that having a state-owned airline was that next logical step, he kept that thought strictly to himself for nearly four years only to spring it on an unsuspecting Akwa Ibom public some three months to the polls.

To rub salt into injury, he even appears to expect to be applauded for this shameful exhibition of planlessness and perhaps rewarded with re-election to boot!

It is worth reviewing at this point, Governor Udom’s futile and uncoordinated exertions in the aviation sector before the surprise announcement of the establishment of Ibom Air.

Clearly, the man had no plan or roadmap for building on what he met on ground in the aviation sector in the state. Rather than develop a solid plan for the sector, he has been flitting like a bee from flower to flower, trying his hands on this and that without successfully taking any of his efforts to a sensible conclusion.

As his first recorded  attempt to do something in that area (beyond flying around in the state-owned jet), Udom perfunctorily continued work on the taxiway at the airport that was started by his predecessor but claimed that he was building  a second runway.

Without successfully completing that, he quickly put up a small bungalow as a temporary extension  to the temporary terminal building to house a couple of shops.

Of course, he neglected to say or do anything about the standard terminal building that had been designed and was awaiting erection. Last year,  in an obvious attempt to curry favour and perhaps earn unmerited endorsement for a second term, he engaged the former governor, HE Obong (Arch) Victor Attah to review  the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility at the airport, which facility that visionary leader had conceived as the fulcrum around which the development of aviation in Akwa Ibom would revolve. Again, up to this day, nothing is known to have come out of that effort, which yielded a report that Deacon Emmanuel received at an elaborate ceremony and promised to implement.

Now, it is a state-owned airline that Udom Emmanuel wants us to celebrate as his unique contribution to the promotion of aviation in Akwa Ibom State. We won’t oblige him.

As with most conceited people, Udom Emmanuel thinks he is very clever; so clever that he can hoodwink over 5 million of us and get away with it.

Unfortunately, he grossly overrates himself. It is obvious to everybody but the man himself and his cheerleaders that he is prancing around naked.

It is obvious that he has done nothing substantial as governor in four years that can be called an achievement. He believes that Ibom Air can make up for his  nonperformance. Sorry, it can’t.

Apart from the doubtful economics of a two-route, three aircraft airline in an import-dependent Nigeria (a fact that makes airline operations, an expensive foreign exchange guzzling affair), the timing of the establishment of Ibom Air all but guarantees its failure.

There is also the matter of the disposition and track record of Emmanuel himself as a manager of the people’s assets. He has shown a distinct lack of competence and a real distaste for such things. Our evidence?

Udom Emmanuel inherited a thriving and functioning Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort managed to world class standards by the SPG group. He sent the managers packing and has since so mismanaged the place that today, it is no better than a hotsheet joint in a disreputable part of town. His excuse? The place was not making profit.

The much acclaimed Ibom Specialist Hospital was also shut down for the sane reason and remains shut to this day. Ditto for Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Ikot Ekpene. It is legitimate to wonder how the same Udom Emmanuel who says he can’t stand the sight of red ink on the balance sheets of government enterprises is now so enamoured of a business that is guaranteed to hemorrhage cash that he has to lead the state into one. It is so totally out of character that we must suspect the worst.

We suspect; in fact we know, that Ibom Air is an afterthought; one of those harebrained ventures that will cost our commonwealth dearly. Just think of the many such schemes and half- digested Udom – promoted ventures that failed before they had begun. The Armoured Vehicle Assembly Plant. Check. The LED Lighting Factory. Check. The Mexican Cattle Ranch in Uruan. Check. The Coconut Oil obsession. Check that too. Tomato Green House. Check again. Toothpick factory.  Peacock Paints ( no trading results after two years). Fertiliser Blending Plant scam. Pulp plant. Paper plant. Rice Mill. Check. Check. Check.

Nothing that Udom has touched by way of investment has worked. Why should Ibom Air be different?

In fact, there are already intimations that Ibom Air will go the way of typical Udom Emmanuel investment efforts. For one thing, it was obviously driven by desperation to win votes at an election that is just around the corner. The cold headed calculations that drive investment decisions may not have come into play. Already, it is known that the government rushed to publish pictures of some aircraft in Akwa Ibom orange when the permission to import the planes has not yet been obtained. Even the Nigerian tail numbers are yet to be issued. The AOC process is still being pursued.

Another matter, which is typical of Udom Emmanuel’s approach, pertains to lack of transparency in the manner of acquisition. While it has been hinted that the government has ‘acquired’ three aircraft in the sense of outright purchase, the government has actually leased the machines. But what sort of lease? Nobody is talking about such a minor detail. Who is the lessor of record? Who is the beneficial leasee? Mute is the word. What is the capitalisation of the entire venture? State owned but what are terms of the so-called private management structure? No answers to what are clearly deemed impertinent questions.

Typically, the governor is already lying even about such innocuous aspects of the transaction like the ages of the aircraft. He has falsely claimed an average age of six years for the three planes when the facts are that two were manufactured in 2008 which makes them over 10 years old and one was built in 2012 which makes it over six years old. Our question: what else about his claims for Ibom Air is false?  Yes, clearly in Ibom Air, we have yet another typical Udom Emmanuel misadventure; birthed in miscalculation and mired in financial legerdemain.

So we shouldn’t and we really don’t expect much of it. Ibom Air may not even fly before Nsima arrives to dismantle the entire contraption and make things whole again.

Akwa Ibom will take its rightful place in the world of aviation as envisioned by the performing leaders who preceded the deacon governor in office. But it is not Udom Emmanuel that will take us there. He hasn’t the capacity, or even the sincere interest, to do so.

–Inyang, a public affairs analyst lives in Eket, Akwa Ibom State

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