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Monday, 26 August, 2002, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Politicians probe Nigeria Airways 'sale'
Nigeria Airways A310
The privatisation of Nigeria Airways has struggled to get off the ground
A fresh challenge has beset the troubled privatisation of Nigeria Airways, with politicians set to investigate allegations over the sale of almost half the carrier to a UK-based company.

Idris Ibrahim Kuta, chairman of Nigeria's senate committee on aviation, has called on the country's Ministry of Aviation to explain why it sold 49% of the airline to leasing company Airwing Aerospace, the Financial Times reported.

Aviation Minister Kema Chikwe
Kema Chikwe: "We are allowed to go into joint ventures
"The ministry should have given us a lead on what they intended to do," Mr Kuta told the newspaper.

It is alleged that the sale was agreed without the consultation with the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the agency in charge of Nigerian privatisations.

The claims could damage Nigeria's efforts to improve its status as a transparent and secure location for inward investment.

"It has just come out of the blue," a bureau official told the FT.

"This looks very much like the way deals used to be done by ministers."

'Within rights'

But Aviation Minister Kema Chikwe had only agreed the deal after receiving approval from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a ministry official said.

"She did not unilaterally sign the agreement," the official was quoted as saying.

"Everything she has done is for the benefit of the country."

Ms Chikwe last week dismissed as mischievous claims over her handling of the Nigeria Airways sales.

"The truth is that whatever the Ministry of Aviation is doing, we are working within the ambit of our own official authority," she told Africa News.

"We are allowed to go into joint ventures and partnership. And the criteria for selection is, if the price is right or the offer is right."

Troubled history

The rumpus is the latest of a series of setbacks to the privatisation of the carrier.

In May last year, a World Bank body advising on the process quit saying its advice was not being heeded.

Last month, staff threatened to make the carrier "ungovernable" for its new owners, over claims of lack of consultation with, and payments to, the airline's workforce.

The airline also last year dismissed its chief executive amid fraud allegations, after Lagos-London flights were suspended over fears about the safety of aircraft leased.

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04 Jan 02 | Business
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