Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has opened an investigation into the Nigeria Air (NWB, Lagos) project, the country’s aviation minister has revealed.

Nigeria Air was a national carrier joint venture with a consortium led by Ethiopian Airlines (ET, Addis Ababa International) that was pursued by the previous government of Muhammadu Buhari until its exit from office last year. Festus Keyamo, the current minister of aviation and aerospace development, said during an appearance on Channels Television on the evening of January 31 that the start-up idea had been in the interests of the Ethiopian carrier but was disadvantageous to Nigeria.

“It was not a deal that was good for Nigeria in the long run. The whole composition and totality of that deal was merely Ethiopian Air flying the Nigerian flag, it was not a national carrier. A flag carrier is different from a national carrier,” he said. “The EFCC is investigating the deal to know whether Nigerians were short changed. I don’t want to pre-empt their investigation.”

TV360 Nigeria subsequently reported that former aviation minister Hadi Sirika was being investigated over the project’s lack of transparency. The former minister left no official disclosure as to how much was spent on the start-up and one of the aims of the latest probe will likely be to detail the financial losses Nigeria incurred.

From the start, Sirika had encountered opposition from the country’s existing domestic carriers, which felt that the project would have given undue advantages to Ethiopian Airlines in the local market. Last year, Sirika appeared before a committee of the EFCC to answer questions about a charter flight bearing Nigeria Air branding that was presented to the media and the public shortly before the government left office.

As recently as December, Ethiopian Airlines continued to believe that its prospective Nigerian venture would go ahead despite the Nigerian government’s concerns. Under the plan, it would have taken a 49% stake in Nigeria Air, private investors 46%, and the Nigerian government 5%.