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We’ve extended our open arms to AON —Adebanjo Virgin Nigeria boss

Posted by KENNETH EHIGIATOR on 2005/07/18 | Views: 826 |

We’ve extended our open arms to AON —Adebanjo Virgin Nigeria boss

AMID controversy over the take-off of Virgin Nigeria, Airlines operators of Nigeria AON, has frown at the participation of the new national carrier in domestic routes. But Virgin Nigeria Director, Chief John Adebanjo says operators can partner together in the sector.

AMID controversy over the take-off of Virgin Nigeria, Airlines operators of Nigeria AON, has frown at the participation of the new national carrier in domestic routes. But Virgin Nigeria Director, Chief John Adebanjo says operators can partner together in the sector.

Despite controversies, Virgin Nigeria Airways, Nigeria’s new flag carrier, eventually had its inaugural flight to London on Tuesday, June 28. Prior to the take-off, the road was long, rough and tortuous, but the doggedness of the promoters, especially the indefatigable Chief John Adebanjo, crystallised in the realisation of the dream. Today, the new carrier has not only consolidated on its London flight, with frequency increased from two to three, but it has also settled down to business on two domestic routes of Abuja and Port Harcourt. The airline’s decision to fly these two local routes was what actually drew the ire of domestic carriers, under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), to the extent of instituting a law suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos.

The contention of the local carriers was that the domestic scene was already burdened with over-capacity, and that Virgin Nigeria’s entry into the scene was capable of strangulating them and eroding their survival, especially with regards to the advantage it enjoys over others in terms of the modern equipment (aircraft), the Airbus A320 it uses for its operations. But the quintessential Adebanjo was quick to allay the fears of AON members when he said Virgin Nigeria was ready to partner with them on the domestic front.

Joining forces together

He said: "Virgin Nigeria initially will not go to Yola tomorrow. We are not going to Calabar tomorrow, but if you look up to flight to those destinations, why don’t you come to Virgin Nigeria and let’s talk; let’s join forces together. We are extending open arms to everybody; let us join hands to make Lagos the hub.

Virgin Nigeria alone cannot make Lagos the hub, Bellview alone cannot make Lagos the hub. Let the Bellviews, the Chanchangis, the Albarkas, the Aeros, let’s come together and make Lagos the hub, and that way, we’ll be able to develop tourism, we’ll be able to create wealth at the airport, that airport has great potentials."

Many have said that the Virgin Nigeria deal would not have pulled through were it not for Adebanjo’s very strong contacts at the top level of government. Not even the strong NEPAD bonds that bind the Nigerian and South African governments together could whittle down his influence on the home government, considering the ease with which the Nigerian Eagle Airlines’ project which had the South African Airways as core investor and strategic partner, collapsed. This is despite the 30 percent equity ceded to the South African carrier against the 49 percent accorded Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Nigeria’s core investor and strategic partner. His influence is not just limited to the present and successive administrations in the country, as he is said to wield same level of influence within the British government. Against all odds, he single-handedly brought Virgin Atlantic

Airways into the country three years ago. It was only to be expected that he was appointed as the general sales agent (GSA) and Nigerian representative of the British second largest carrier after British Airways.

Before teaming up with the Virgin Group, Adebanjo had served in the engineering department of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), where he actually began to dream aviation. Today, he is not only a member of the Virgin Nigeria Board, he is equally a member of another aviation concern, Adecentro Aviation, a charter operator as well as several other companies. He had also served in several capacities as the chief engineer of Britain-France Channel Tunnel Construction; senior consultant, Jubilee Line Underground Extension in the United Kingdom and chief engineer of Biomass Power Generating Plant also of the U.K.

Even at a time the Virgin team was almost giving up on Virgin Nigeria because of the welter of confusion that trailed its formation, it was gathered that it was the intervention of Chief Adebanjo that gave the needed tonic to continue. Nigerians, particularly stakeholders in the aviation sector, who were not comfortable with what they described as the skewed nature of the formation process of the new flag carrier, wanted the process discontinued. That condemnations that followed were enough to make any one retreat into his shell, but not Chief Adebanjo. Adebanjo, who holds an MBA Degree in Engineering, is said to be currently brokering an interface between the Virgin Atlantic Airways and the Ghanaian government with regards to floating of a Virgin carrier in Ghana. Many observers have expressed fears that the banning of Virgin Nigeria by the U.S. government over Virgin Atlantic Airways’ control of the new carrier may turn out to be its albatross, but Adebanjo does not think so. He had said severally that the U.S. ban is a government to government issue which the authorities of both countries would sort out at the appropriate time.

He was quick to dismiss insinuations that Virgin Nigeria did not file a proper application to enable it fly into the U.S. He said: "I don’t know what their definition of full process of application mean. But what I can say concerning the American Embassy is that the bilateral discussion between the two countries rest with the government and not with Virgin Atlantic. But in terms of whether we have indicated interest to come on board, we have applied and the third application has just gone through and I am sure a copy will be handled by Dr. Gabriel Shideran; we have submitted another copy to the ambassador to Nigeria. At least, we sent a copy to the Department of States.

But this time around, we are going to do it again and ensure that the U.S. ambassador has a copy. We will ensure that, henceforth, this issue of receiving or not receiving or whether Virgin Nigeria has made a full application or not will not happen again. But I am positive that we’ve done it in the past again and again, but we will still do it again to ensure that our application gets to the right place. I can assure that the government is handling this."

If there is anywhere the Nigerian "godfatherism" syndrome had been completely de-emphasised in job placement, it is Virgin Nigeria, and this has been attributed to the resolve of Chief Adebanjo and chief executive officer of the airline, Mr. Simon Harford, to have the best of professionals working in there. Perhaps, the criticisms that trailed the formation contributed to the strengthening of this resolve.

According to Adebanjo, the eye for qualified personnel as Virgin Nigeria’s staff informed the choice of two leading human resource outfits, KPMG and Philips Consulting, to handle the airline’s recruitment which dragnet had been spread to all the zones of the country. "This is a Nigerian company, but at the same time, we are not compromising on professionalism. If you are qualified and you can do the job, we give it to you. We do not have godfatherism in place here and we have not encouraged it and will not encourage it," he had told newsmen in one of his encounters with the media.

Observes believe that Virgin Atlantic Airways’ achievements in the last three years of flying into the country could not be divorced from Chief Adebanjo’s midas touch, and that if same is extended to Virgin Nigeria, the airline may well be on the road to becoming one of Africa’s and world leading carriers.

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