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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 14:19 GMT
Fresh fraud probe for Nigeria Airways
Nigeria Airways aircraft
The airline only has one working aircraft left
Nigeria's scandal-ridden national airline is facing yet another probe into the alleged misdeeds of its management.

The government has announced that, following a judicial inquiry it is setting up a ministerial committee to investigate the disappearance of more than US$400m (254m) between 1983 and 1999.

The period in question covered the years from Nigeria's last civilian government to the election of the current administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The airline is barely functioning after years of mismanagement, with only one operable aircraft and barely any reliable timetable.

High-level fraudsters

The idea of fraud at the heart of Nigeria Airways is unlikely to come as news to Nigerians.

Popularly dubbed "Nigeria Air Waste", the company's abysmal maintenance record and its swelling bad debts have seen its fleet of jetliners dwindle from 20 two decades ago.

In common with other state enterprises, the airline was treated as a cash cow by a succession of military governments, the most recent inquiry has found.

It has also identified several high-placed Nigerians as party to the theft, Information Minister Jerry Gana said, although he declined to name them or the companies involved.

Little to sell

The recent record, however, is little better.

Earlier this year attempts to privatise the airline ran into problems after the Ministry of Aviation sold a 49% stake to a UK leasing company, Airwing, without going through the proper channels.

The process was already in jeopardy after a World Bank body advising on the sale pulled out in May 2001, saying that with most of its routes sold off there was almost nothing left that anyone would want.

In January 2002, the airline said it was sacking almost half its staff in readiness for privatisation.

And flights to London - the most important route given the massive Nigerian expat population in the UK - were restarted only in late 2001 with a leased aircraft after an eight-year hiatus.

The UK safety authorities had refused to certify the airline as airworthy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Dan Issacs
"A great deal of money gone astray over many many years of Nigeria Airways operations"
See also:

15 May 02 | Africa
12 Mar 02 | Business
04 Jan 02 | Business
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