NIGERIA: Protecting the Nigerian Brand Through Air Transport

When Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) was liquidated in 2004 there came a yawning gap in the domestic air travel market, which other airlines, privately own, strove to close. These include Bellview Airline, Chancahngi, IRS Airline and later Virgin Nigeria Airways Limited and Arik Air.

Arik Air came into the market with high capacity because within three years of operation it acquired brand new aircraft and started international flight operations to London, New York and Johannesburg with limited foray to Dubai. The airline, according to industry pundits became a replacement to the defunct NAL in terms of capacity, route network and even creation of jobs.

By the time Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) took over the airline and it became a shadow if itself, suspending all its international routes and shrinking its West Coast and local destinations, another airline, Air Peace, which started operation on October 24, 2014 emerged as another carrier with growing capacity. Under AMCON, ArikAir has become moribund, as NG Eagle is primed to rise on its ashes. Nigerians yearned for more capacity in air travel, as connecting different cities by air in Nigeria became critical when insecurity became a threat to road transport.

Strengthening Unity
Air Peace was a rising Nigerian carrier making inroads into the West Africa and international market. It became a household name in Africa when it evacuated Nigerians from South Africa during the Xenophobia violence in that African nation. Not a few were aghast when a privately own airline in Nigeria took the responsibility of government and offered to evacuate Nigerians from the violence in Johannesburg and other cities in South Africa, where some citizens from other African nations had lost their lives.

On September 10, 2019, Reuters reported about the evacuation and quoted a South African Minister, ‘“A private citizen who owns an airline has offered to evacuate Nigerians from South Africa who want to leave, and obviously there are immigration rules that go with that, so its a process,” Ayanda Dlodlo, South Africa’s Minister of State Security, told reporters in Cape Town.”
The evacuation put Air Peace on the front burner in the continent that other African countries arranged to also evacuate their citizens from South Africa.

When asked then by journalists why he decided to evacuate Nigerians from South Africa, the Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyemasaid, “I was at the NCAA (the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) office and we were having a meeting and I was seeing television tapes of the stigmatization in South Africa and I used to take ex-militants to South Africa to train and transform them. So many of Nigerians in South Africa are trapped, a lot of the people had wanted to come back some four years ago but nobody to bring them back, no flight ticket, nothing. That was when I decided to bring them back.

“So, the motivation there was to save our people, to do something that others will look at and say okay this is going to bond the country. So I decided to call our Foreign Affairs Minister and told him that I wanted to evacuate Nigerians and that I wanted to do it free of charge,” he said.
But the following year, Air Peace carried out critical assignment for the federal government when it brought medical supplies to Nigeria from China during the COVID-19 lockdown. It also evacuated many Nigerians from different countries to their fatherland.

COVID-19 Evacuations

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Nigeria’s indigenous carrier, Air Peace carried out series of evacuation flights both inbound and outbound and helped to bring back stranded Nigerians. Information from the airline showed that it brought medical supplies for the federal government from Turkey; later went back to the country and brought in evacuees; on April 7, 2020 it flew to China to bring in medical supplies and experts for the federal government.

Air Peace evacuated Indians from Nigeria and brought in Nigerian on May 31, June 4, 13; July 4 and July 8, 2020. The airline evacuated Nigerians from Turkey on July 5, Uganda and Kenya, July 2, South Africa, and June 25, evacuated Nigerians from the UK on June 28 and flew to Thailand and Malaysia where it brought in 310 Nigerians on July 11, 2020.
On April 7, 2020, Air Peace flew to china to bring in 15 Chinese medical experts and medical supplies. It flew back on May 30 to bring in 268 Nigerians, again on May 29 when it brought in 301 Nigerians. So, Air Peace brought back over 4, 302 Nigerians from different parts of the country during the lockdown.

Recently Air Peace signed a partnership agreement with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) as the official airline sponsor of the Super Eagles and Nigerian national teams.
NFF president Amaju Pennick speaking during the signing of the partnership said, “Air Peace epitomizes unity, patriotism, humanity and selflessness. We at the NFF have followed not only the meteoric rise of the company but its patriotic fervour and sense of nationalism. It is an organisation that believes firmly in the Nigeria project, just as we do.”

Air Peace announced its sponsorship of the 12th Gulder Ultimate Search in order to support Nigerian youths.
Besides, Air Peace has connected Nigerian cities more than any airline in recent times, opening up new routes like Benin to Port Harcourt, Asaba to Kano, Owerri to Kano and others.

During the delivery of Air Peace fourth brand new aircraft, Embraer E195-E2 in Abuja recently, Onyema said, ““We have new domestic routes that we want to deploy the aircraft to. We have new routes that we have just opened and more routes will still come in the coming months. We are opening Gombe very soon and our intention is to open up this country. We will also connect North East with North West and other routes. Owerri-Kaduna and other routes will be connected.”

But beyond Air Peace, the Chairman and CEO of the company had been known for his munificence and sacrifice for the unity of Nigeria. Onyema had been central to the resolution of the issues in the Niger Delta. At a time the country’s oil economy was headed for a nosedive as a result of rising militancy in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil region, using his NGO, Federation For Ethnic Harmony of Nigeria (FEHN). All of these have shown the importance of indigenous companies and imperative of government rallying behind airlines, especially Air Peace, to grow and plough back to the larger development of united Nigeria.

Manpower Development and Job Creation
Currently Air Peace operates 30 aircraft and has fully paid for 13 Embraer E195-E2, which four had been delivered and all the 13 would be delivered before end of 2022. As the launch customer for the new aircraft type, Air Peace had to train Nigerians on the new aircraft type. He took young Nigerians to Embraer manufacturing facility in Sao Jose dos Campos (San Jose) where they spent months and become the new crop of pilots and engineers trained on the aircraft type in the world.

With over 3000 indigenous workers from different parts of the country, Air Peace has spent huge resources in manpower development.
The Managing Director of Flight Logistics Solutions, Amos Akpan told THISDAY that Air Peace has given Nigerians youths and others special training in the aviation industry that would continue to be relevant throughout their lifetime.

“Allen Onyema is doing a lot of sacrifice for the aviation industry and for the brand, called Nigeria. He has a human heart. He is sacrificing his personal time, business and resources to protect the Nigerian brand. Air Peace closed the gap provided by the absence of Arik Air as a major industry player and the gap that was left by Nigeria Airways that was filled by Arik Air when it was a dominant airline in Nigeria. You have to note that the aviation industry is not the best place to invest in because of its low profit margins. It is not a terrain where return on investment is impressive. So in the absence of a national carrier and Arik Air, Air Peace filled a very important gap. Just imagine air travel in Nigeria today without Air Peace. Onyema could have gone to trade on articles that could give him huge returns, but he decided to invest in a sector where it is difficult to grow profit margin. He has taken people out of unemployment. He has given Nigerians skills that are difficult to acquire, which will remain relevant throughout their lives.

“What was impressive is his effort to unite Nigeria so he brought unity brand into what he is doing and that is very important. His goodness has eclipsed whatever baggage he may have. Those unscrupulous assumptions have been diminished by his invaluable contributions to united Nigeria. The aviation industry is not the best for owners of investment fund, but he chose to invest in the sector. In terms of national spread, Arik Air did well, but Air Peace bridged the gap and linked more cities by air. Air Peace is the largest employer of labour by private investor in the industry and this has helped in the unity brand because he employed from every part of the country and Allen Onyema has done all these without political office or intent for political office for now,” Akpansaid.

United Nigeria
Former acting Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and currently the Rector of International Aviation College, Ilorin, Benedict Adeyileka told THISDAY that employment in Air Peace represents the diversity in Nigeria because every ethnicity and religion is represented from the top to the bottom.

“Air Peace reflects the diversity of Nigeria. There is no part of Nigeria that does not have somebody working in Air Peace, from the top management to the Board of Directors there are Yorubas, Hausa, Igbos, Kogi, Igala, Niger Delta and he has also helped the country. There was a time the highest number of pilots in the airline came from northern Nigeria.

“I also noticed that when Air Peace open operation in any airport they make sure they employ local people to work there, so the airline creates jobs everywhere. Onyema tries to unite everybody and he looks at issues from the horizon of Nigeria. In fact, I think he needs to be commended because his motive is always to create jobs and provide succour to the people. You have to look at people’s intentions to evaluate them,” Adeyileka said.

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