Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 18:28 UK

Virgin to sell Nigerian airline

Virgin Nigeria brand
Virgin is pulling its brand name and selling its stake in Virgin Nigeria

Virgin Atlantic is to pull its brand name from Nigeria's national airline Virgin Nigeria and sell its stake in the company.

Virgin's sell-off is the final closure of an increasingly acrimonious deal, announced with great fanfare, five years ago.

An unnamed Virgin source told Reuters news agency the company would have until early July to rebrand itself.

Virgin Nigeria could not immediately be reached for comment.

"It is like the parent is now letting the child go off on its own," the Virgin source said.

In 2004 Virgin entered into a deal, brokered by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, to take over as the national flag-carrier from Nigerian Airways which had collapsed among accusations of corruption.

'Mafioso tactics'

Virgin Atlantic paid $25m for a 49% stake in the new airline, with Nigerian investors making up the rest.

Relations between Virgin and the government soured after President Obasanjo's successor, Umar Yar'Adua took over in 2007.

In 2008 Virgin Nigeria was stripped of a special deal allowing them to operate domestic flights from the international terminal at Lagos airport.

While stunned passengers looked on, hammer-wielding men demolished their lounge.

Virgin owner Richard Branson accused the government of using "mafioso tactics" and the government accused Virgin of "orchestrating negative propaganda".

In January, Virgin Nigeria announced they would be stopping flights on their loss-making Lagos-Johannesburg and Lagos-London routes.

After Virgin's withdrawal, the Nigerian airline is likely to merge with another local carrier, the Virgin source told Reuters.

Virgin Atlantic's flights into Lagos Airport are to continue.

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