Nigeria's former aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, is expected to be arraigned in an Abuja court next week after being arrested earlier this week by the country's corruption watchdog in connection with fraud and money laundering allegations involving NGN8 billion naira (USD6.4 million). He was reportedly also questioned about the controversial Nigeria Air (NWB, Lagos) project.

According to local news reports, Sirika was detained on April 23 and remained in custody while being questioned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja, which was preparing charges against him.

As first reported by the newspaper The Punch, the investigation focuses on contracts Sirika allegedly approved during his tenure as aviation minister for Engirios Nigeria Limited, owned by his brother Abubakar Sirika, also a deputy director at the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.

The contracts included the construction of a terminal building at Katsina Airport in August 2022 for NGN1.35 billion (USD1.1 million); a fire-truck maintenance centre at the same airport in November 2022 for NGN3.8 billion (USD3.1 million); the procurement of lifts and other equipment for the Abuja office of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in February 2023 for NGN615 million (USD498,000); and procurement of Magnus Aircraft for pilot training and a simulator for the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology in the city of Zaria in May 2023 for NGN2.2 billion (USD1.8 million).

It is alleged that at least NGN3.2 billion (USD2.6 million) was paid to Engirios Nigeria Limited, which then transferred the funds to various entities.

The EFCC started investigating Sirika in February 2024 concerning allegations of conspiracy, abuse of office, diversion of public funds, and contract inflation during his time in office between August 22, 2019 and May 29, 2023. The Punch revealed that Abubakar Sirika was arrested on February 4 and has been assisting the commission in its probe.

An unnamed source close to the investigation told the newspaper that Hadi Sirika was also being questioned about the controversial Nigeria Air project but gave no further insight. The EFCC is probing the proposed joint venture between a consortium led by Ethiopian Airlines and the previous government of Muhammadu Buhari. The consortium won a tender process run by the state-owned Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). However, Nigeria Air's certification process was suspended in November 2022 after private airlines under the mantle of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) lobby group won an interim court interdict against its further establishment, followed by legal to-and-fros about the jurisdiction of the case.

Sirika in particular came under public fire after he approved a publicity charter flight operated by Ethiopian Airlines bearing Nigeria Air branding shortly before the government left office. After taking office in August 2023, new Aviation and Aerospace Development Minister Festus Keyamo suspended the Nigeria Air venture pending the outcome of the EFCC investigation.