Air Transport World

Putting the past behind: presidentially named management has Nigeria Airways on the road to profitability and respectability. (company profile)

Lagos-"Straighten out Nigeria Airways." That was the order given at year-end 1988 by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, President of Africa's most populous nation, to a specially appointed presidential task force (PTF). Comprising eight members, including some of Nigeria's top executives and economists, the PTF is chaired by Air Vice Marshal Abdullah D. Bello, who had become a successful businessman after a distinguished career in the Nigerian Air Force. In the 1970s, he was on the airline' a board of directors and served briefly as chief executive in 1979.

From all evidence, it seems that the Bello PTF succeeded in doing what was asked of it even though many industry observers talked about "Mission Impossible," when the group was set up. Their pessimism was based on the failure of all previous attempts to transform the national carrier into an efficient and prosperous airline. Since its establishment in 1958 as a successor to the multinational West African Airways Corp. (WAAC), Nigeria Airways has had a succession of chief executives-including some seconded from European carriers-and no less than 14 board chairmen. At times during the 1980s, it functioned without a board of directors, with control vested in a government-appointed administrator.

Since 1979, the financial situation of Nigeria Airways has been bad-just how bad is as yet impossible to tell, as the accounts for the last years of the decade have not been published and are being scrutinized by consultants-including Aer Lingus-appointed by the PTF. Acting financial director S. Leks told ATW that the accumulated losses through Dec. 31, 1988 amounted to the equivalent of $250 million with a deficit of $15 million incurred in 1987 alone. The company has had a notorious record in defaulting on payments. Among the consequences that it suffered was the ignominy of having two of its Airbus A310s seized by French court action-one being held for two years, the other for 2 1/2 years-and of having its IATA Clearing House membership terminated.

The fact that last fall's IATA AGM elected Bello to the executive committee attests to the fact that the world airline industry recognizes his efforts in putting Nigeria Airways' house in order. …

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