Ethiopian Airlines CEO: Nigeria can cancel national carrier project — we won’t be disappointed



Mesfin Tasew, the group chief executive officer (GCEO) of Ethiopian Airlines, says the company won’t be disappointed should Nigerian government cancel the Nigeria Air project.


Tasew spoke to journalists on the sidelines of a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


In May 2023, Hadi Sirika, former aviation minister, unveiled Nigeria Air, the country’s national carrier, in Abuja. However, the launch was trailed by widespread controversy.


Prior to its launch, domestic aviation firms, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), had opposed the floating of the airline over uncertainties in its ownership structure — a conflict that began soon after Ethiopian Air was announced as the preferred bidder for Nigeria Air.

Consequently, a federal high court in Lagos restrained the government from floating the airline.


On August 31, 2023, Festus Keyamo, minister of aviation, announced the suspension of the national carrier project.


Speaking on the issue, Tasew said if the government wants the Nigeria Air project cancelled, it is fine with Ethiopian Airlines because it was not the initiative of the company.


Expatiating on the position of Ethiopian Airlines, Tasew said if the government prefers his company help change strategy, his company will provide the necessary assistance.


“We have no issues; we will not be disappointed if it is cancelled. We are just there to help. And if the parties ask us to help, change their mind, change its strategy, we are fine with that. This is what we told the Minister; that we respect whatever decision of the Nigerian government,” he said.




Tasew said Ethiopian Airlines was not initially interested in the Nigeria Air project, but Nigerian government insisted that the African airline has to assist in establishing the national carrier.


“Ethiopian Airlines didn’t have any intention or plan to set up an airline in Nigeria. In May of 2022, when I took my current responsibility (as Group CEO), a request came from the Nigerian government asking ET (Ethiopian Airlines) to participate in a bid and help the Nigerian government to set up a Nigerian flag carrier. It came in writing,” Tasew said.


“Initially, we didn’t want to go into that. We said we have other initiatives in other countries and we were busy. But the Nigerian government insisted that Ethiopian Airlines is an African airline, it has to help the Nigerian government in setting up the national carrier.


“So, we had to respect them. We serve the Nigerian public and government by flying to four cities in Nigeria; we couldn’t say no, we cannot come and help you. So, we had to submit proposal, we had to respect the Nigerian government.


“And we thought that the Nigerian government had choices, ET being one; because they had also requested other airlines in the Middle East, Europe to participate in the bid.


“I don’t know whether they participated or not. We submitted our proposal and we received a letter from the Ministry of Aviation, saying that Ethiopian Airlines has been selected to be a partner to set up the airline.”


Tasew said the Nigerian government sought a structure of Nigerian investing institutions and a 5 percent stake in the airline to have a presence in the operation.


“We had a lot of discussions, we agreed but we had some differences in some points,” he said.




As both parties were preparing the shareholder agreement, Tasew said some companies in Nigeria — including airlines — began disparaging and opposing Nigeria Air’s formation in addition to defaming Ethiopian Airlines and the government.


“At that time, we thought that if the Nigerian government doesn’t want it, the Nigerian public doesn’t want it, we could as well withdraw,” he said.


“But the Nigerian government insisted that no, this is a strategic issue for Nigeria and we have to continue.”


Tasew said the company had no intention to kill domestic airlines when it decided to partner with the Nigerian government to establish Nigeria Air.


Giving a condition for Ethiopian Airlines’ continued support for the Nigeria Air project, Tasew said the government must resolve the court cases.

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