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 Keyamo Leads Talks on Airbus Aircraft Lease :


On the face of it, nothing could be more laudable: a mission to France by a high-powered  delegation of Nigerian senior government officials led by the country’s Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, SAN, to engage with one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturing companies, Airbus Industrie, to facilitate the leasing of some of their  aircraft to Nigeria’s private airline operators. 

But the less than laudable underside of that mission was an action that left many Nigerians bemused, and wondering whether some of our leaders truly understand their roles, and the implications of their public behaviour, especially when outside the shores of this country – as far as their utterances, decorum and comportment are concerned. 

Keyamo’s delegation  to the Airbus Industrie headquarters in the French city of Toulouse, which also included representatives of private airline operators in Nigeria, held high-level meetings with leading aircraft leasing companies as part of a 4-day Bilateral Business Forum, and negotiated terms to make Airbus aircraft available to Nigerian airline operators at highly affordable rates.

This, Keyamo said, was in line with the Tinubu administration’s goal to ensure the availability of these aircraft at economical rates, which would enable said operators to serve both domestic and international routes in a more effective and timely manner. 

Following the discussions, the delegation went on a tour showcasing various Airbus aircraft models, and also visited the city of Marseille and the two Paris airports (Orly and Charles de Gaulle) in their quest to explore opportunities for French private sector investment in the Nigerian aviation industry. 

Justifying the Nigerian government’s engagement with Airbus Industrie in particular, and the French business community, as well as the French government in general, Keyamo stated that no airline (or government-owned flag-carrier, for that matter) could buy its entire fleet outright, hence the need for global cooperation when it comes to aircraft leasing among aircraft manufacturers and airline operators. He lamented the fact that the absence of favourable leasing conditions has been a key contributor to the high failure rate of Nigerian airlines over the past four decades. 

As part of the solution to this perennial problem, Keyamo referenced the Cape Town Convention, (an international agreement which establishes legal protections for aviation financing and leasing, and aimed at ensuring a reliable framework for these activities). Nigeria is a signatory to that Convention. To that end, Keyamo offered his French hosts a slew of guarantees of asset protection for creditors in case of default – in essence assuring his hosts of the safety of their investment assets. 

But in a rather bizarre twist to this otherwise praise-worthy mission and ministerial presentations, a viral video later emerged that appeared to show the aviation minister touting the qualities of the various brands of Airbus aircraft during his tour of the company’s manufacturing plant in Toulouse. “You can’t see anything bigger than this …” he was heard saying of the plant’s interior, surrounded by a number of brand-new aircraft. He then gestured towards one of the company’s A320 aircraft, describing it as “the aircraft for Nigeria … the jack of all trades for Nigeria.” He then turned to a much larger (and apparently more luxurious) plane, a member of the A350 family of Airbus planes, and saying, “When you enter it, you’ll see Heaven on Earth.” 

Then to the A380: ” A proper star aircraft.” 

The A330: “This one is a double-decker. Awesome.” And so forth. 

At a point during his effusive promotion of the various brands of Airbus aircraft, Keyamo went as far as saying, ‘We have so-and-so … ‘ – emphasizing the ‘we’ as if he was the host conducting his Nigerian visitors and cameramen round the complex and extolling the respective features of each aircraft. 

Many Nigerians, especially netizens, were quick to express their disapproval over what they saw as the Minister’s overly ingratiating behaviour. In an online post, one netizen greeted Keyamo (tongue-in-cheek) as ‘ the new sales manager of Airbus’, while another berated the Minister for behaving more like ‘a social media influencer’ than a government minister representing a sovereign nation in another land. Some analysts said the minister had made himself – and Nigeria – into an international laughing-stock. Not surprisingly, given Nigerians’ proclivity for dark, albeit highly-creative, humour – especially when it comes to poking fun at public office-holders – Keyamo’s enthusiastic advertisement campaign for Airbus has elicited many memes, particularly on social media. 

Beyond the humour, however, a number of commentators were of the view that Keyamo’s mission in France (not the ridiculous aspect, but the serious interactions with Airbus executives and other noteworthy engagements) raise a number of questions not just for the minister and his delegation, but also for the federal government – and indeed for the generality of Nigerians. These questions have to do with the state of the aviation sector of the Nigerian economy and the struggles local airline operators are going through just to stay afloat, let alone to be  competitive – and what impact the leasing arrangement the Minister hopes to negotiate with Airbus would have on the short-term fortunes of benefiting airline operators, and the long-term growth of the Nigerian civil aviation industry. 

Will this leasing arrangement, for example, lead to a more robust and constructive business engagement between the Airbus conglomerate with Nigerian aviation – such as the eventual manufacture (or assembly, at least, as was promised at one time by the immediate past Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika) of aircraft in Nigeria? Will it lead to the establishment of hangars at various locations in Nigeria, which would enable airline operators to service, maintain and even repair aircraft here in Nigeria – at far less cost (and thereby save the country precious foreign exchange) than taking them abroad for those purposes? These, along with issues around aircraft safety and security, are matters that many of Nigeria’s growing tribe of air travelers – on both local and international routes – would hope the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development would be able to iron out with the leadership of Airbus in the days to come. 

As for the Minister’s promotional stunt in Toulouse, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know Festus Keyamo, SAN, well. From his days as a young attorney cutting his legal teeth at the law chambers of the late titan, Chief Gani Fewehinmi, SAN, he had always sought the spotlight. After leaving those chambers, his profile rose tremendously when he turned the investigation into the gruesome assassination of the late Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige, into a crusade, as he relentlessly examined the alleged role of one of the late Minister’s most prominent political adversaries in Ige’s demise. His appointment as head of the legal team of the country’s main anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) raised his profile even further. And as the spokesman for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the run-up to the 2019 and 2023 presidential elections, Keyamo’s combative style of arguing his position, and his unabashed browbeating and skewering of opponents won him admirers and detractors in equal measure.  

A man given to rhetorical flourishes – and, some would say, a Joseph Goebbels-like penchant for bending the truth whenever it suited his position, plus an ability to argue for seeming contrasting positions with equal brilliance and vehemence – Keyamo is a man you can’t ignore,  love him or hate him. 

Before his present role, he was the Minister of State in the latter part of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. Not a few Nigerians were surprised, though, when he was assigned to the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development by President Bola Tinubu. It was, by all accounts, rather unfamiliar territory to a man who had made his name as a litigation lawyer – a lately, a political spokesperson. 

But as we have seen so far from his energetic performance so far, he is a quick learner. 

And with Festus Keyamo, SAN, one can be sure of one thing: what he lacks in policy expertise, or even personal or political conviction, he certainly makes up for in enthusiasm (or over-enthusiasm, as we saw in the Airbus video). One can only hope, for the sake of our national image and pride, that his Airbus performance in Toulouse would be the last of its kind on the international stage. 








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