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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 15:05 GMT
Nigeria Airways halves workforce
Lagos street scene
Almost half the airline's staff will be on the streets looking for work
Nigeria Airways is sacking nearly half its staff in a last-ditch attempt to put its house in order and prepare for privatisation.

In a statement, the airline said it was getting rid of 1,000 of its 2,300 employees, and promised they would receive redundancy payments within three months.

The airline, which has only two planes, called its actions "a major right-sizing exercise".

It said the staff had been "rationalised as a result of Federal Government efforts to put the airline on line again".

A panel appointed by the government to look into privatisation recommended the mass layoffs last year.

Deep differences

But analysts said it remained an open question as to whether the airline could ever be put back together.

There are deep differences between the minister of aviation, the bureau of public enterprises - which has overall responsibility for privatisations -, unions, advisers and the company itself over how to proceed.

The last attempt at selling it off failed in part because the airline did not own as many shares in itself as had been thought.

Senior officials had, over the years, assigned themselves shares in the airline, it was discovered.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private finance arm of the World Bank, pulled out of its role advising the government late last year.

It pointed out that since the government had sold off most of the routes to which the airline still had rights, there was nothing of practical value left to sell.

Far cry

Nigeria Airways is today a far cry from its heyday in the early 1980s when it had a fleet of about 30 aircraft.

After nearly two decades of military rule the airline was asset-stripped, its revenue stolen and its planes impounded at airports around the world - either for safety reasons or because of the airline's inability to pay its way.

The Lagos-London route, for instance, lapsed in the early 1990s.

In August last year the airline tried to re-establish the route with a hired 747 from Air Djibouti - only to have its inaugural flight cancelled with just 24 hours to go before take-off.

The reason, it emerged later, was that despite warnings from Nigeria's aviation authority the airline had not secured the right permissions to prove the plane was airworthy.

Only after another three months, the sacking of the chief executive and other senior officials, and the hiring of a more reliable plane, did the service resume.

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