Shareholders of Arik Air Limited have filed a N20 billion suit against the federal government and Ethiopian Airlines over recent stories in the media that they were in negotiations on the takeover of the airline.
Ethiopian Airlines had stated that it has submitted a bid for Nigeria’s largest carrier, but this was dismissed by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) which took over the troubled airline last February over mounting debts.
AMCON’s chief executive, Ahmed Kure had informed THISDAY that he had not received a bid from Ethiopian Airlines for Arik.
The suit challenging the so-called takeover bid was instituted by the shareholders of the airline at the Federal High Court, Lagos, against Ethiopian Airlines, the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN).
A copy of the suit which was filed on September 6 by Arik’s counsel, Mr. Babajide Koku (SAN), Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwigwe and Mrs. Ezinne Emedom, was obtained by THISDAY yesterday in Lagos.
In its statement of claims, supported by a 20-paragraph affidavit and deposed to by Mr. Chris Ndulue, a director with Arik Air, the plaintiff asked the court to restrain the first and second defendants from further negotiations on the Nigerian airline’s takeover.
The plaintiff averred that the AMCON had taken over the airline on February 8, which was challenged by its management via two suits already pending before the Federal High Court, Lagos.
According to the plaintiff, the suits numbers are FHC/L/CS/827/17 and FHC/L/CS/826/17, adding that the negotiations by the defendants will render the outcome of the suits nugatory.
“The plaintiff avers that the agreement of the second defendant with the first defendant will be wide ranging and intricately affect every aspect of the plaintiff herein, including but not limited to the day to day running, technical as well as financial management, which will affect the plaintiff as being the largest domestic and regional airline in Nigeria.
“The plaintiff further avers that the action taken by the first and second defendants will have a negative effect on the country’s image, as the plaintiff being the largest airline will be pawned over to another country for management,” it said.
The plaintiff also averred that the negotiations had caused undue hardship and irreparable damage to the Arik Air brand and ongoing investment discussions as well as unbearable distress to the airline’s shareholders and directors.
The plaintiff therefore asked the court to declare the negotiations null and void because the Ministry of Transportation has no power to transfer the management of the airline to Ethiopian Airlines while the suits over the takeover by AMCON were pending.
The plaintiff also asked the court for an order directing Malami to ensure the investigation of Ethiopian Airlines by the appropriate authorities for inducing and interfering in the administration of justice in the pending suits.
The shareholders added that if found culpable, the Ethiopian airline should be charged to court for criminal contempt, contrary to Section 133 (4) and (9) of the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State, Cap C17 Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2004.
The plaintiff also asked the court for an order compelling the Inspector General of Police to investigate the actions of the second defendant.
It further asked the court for N20 billion, being punitive damages against the first defendant, for inducing or partaking in the interference of the rights of the plaintiff and the administration of justice.
Speaking on behalf of the stakeholders, former vice-president of Arik Air, Senator Anietie Okon accused Ethiopia Airlines of engaging in unethical behavior and of conspiring with unnamed persons in the Nigerian government to take over Arik, noting that records show that Ethiopian Airlines has owed huge debts in the past which with the support of its own government it had defrayed but is currently still indebted to various creditors.
Okon noted that in the aviation industry, debts by airlines were a continuum and it is believed that as long as that airline is flying it owes debts.
According to him, debts are staggered and paid for and in all countries of the world; most governments support their airlines, whether flag carriers or national carriers, including those that are indebted.
He said Arik has over 2,000 direct staff and is indirectly providing sustenance to over 5,000 Nigerians.