The former minister reveals factors behind demise of Virgin Nigeria and criticises Nigeria Air Unveiling
In an exclusive interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, former Minister of Aviation, Isa Yuguda, shed light on the circumstances that led to the early demise of Virgin Nigeria, while also addressing the controversy surrounding the unveiling of Nigeria Air.
Virgin Nigeria was established in 2004 as a replacement for the defunct Nigeria Airways and operated as a joint venture between Nigerian investors and British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
However, a dispute with the Federal Government in 2009 resulted in the Virgin Group withdrawing from the venture. As a consequence, the airline underwent a series of name changes, from Nigerian Eagle Airlines to Air Nigeria, before ultimately ceasing operations in 2012.
Yuguda, who served as the aviation minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo during Virgin Nigeria’s establishment, expressed his views on the Nigeria Air project, which was unveiled by then-Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika on May 26, 2023 shortly before the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
The Nigeria Air project has faced intense scrutiny after it was revealed that the aircraft showcased at the unveiling ceremony was a chartered flight, leading to allegations of fraud by some lawmakers. Yuguda emphasised the importance of economies of scale in the airline industry and highlighted the need for partnerships with major international players.
Expressing regret over missed opportunities, Yuguda mentioned that subsequent ministers in charge of aviation had made decisions that drove Richard Branson and his Virgin Group away from Nigeria. This had a detrimental impact on Nigeria’s reputation for conducting business, with Branson himself publicly stating that Nigeria was the worst place to do business and advising against international investments in the country. Yuguda noted that Richard Branson’s successful airlines, such as Virgin Australia, Virgin America, and Virgin India, were evidence of his contributions to the aviation industry.
Yuguda estimated that Nigeria would require a substantial investment of $200-$300 million to establish a competitive airline of its own. He highlighted the fierce competition in the sector, listing major international carriers like British Airways, Lufthansa, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines as formidable players.
The former minister further explained that leading airlines join alliances, such as SkyTeam and oneworld, enabling them to form global networks and enhance their competitive edge. Given this landscape, Yuguda expressed doubts about Nigeria Air’s ability to compete with British Airways, even on the lucrative London route.