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House of Reps demands accountability from airlines over COVID-19 funds

House Committee Sets Deadline for Refund of N4bn Amidst Lack of Transparency

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The House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee has issued a stern ultimatum to private airline operators in Nigeria, demanding accountability for the sum of N4 billion allocated by the Federal Government to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Failure to provide justifiable evidence of the funds’ utilization within a week will mandate a refund to the Federal Government Treasury.

Chaired by Bamidele Salam, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party from Osun State, the committee delivered the directive on Friday during its investigative hearing into the alleged mismanagement of COVID-19 intervention funds by various government agencies, including over 56 ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs).

Expressing dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency, the committee emphasized the necessity for private airlines, including Aero Contractors and Azman, to clarify how the relief funds, intended to support the aviation sector, were expended during the pandemic crisis.

Representatives from Azman Airlines and Aero Contractors disclosed receiving substantial sums from the relief fund, purportedly allocated for operational expenses such as aircraft maintenance, spare parts, fueling, and insurance premiums. However, lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of the expenditures, highlighting discrepancies in the services provided vis-à-vis the pandemic’s context.

Ojuawo Adeniyi, a committee member and former pilot with the Nigerian Air Force, scrutinized the claims made by the operators, asserting that the services cited were typical of routine airline operations rather than pandemic response measures.

In response to the lack of transparency, Akiba Bassey, representing Calabar Municipal/Odukpani Federal Constituency in Cross River State, proposed a motion for the refund of the N4 billion to the Federation Account should the airlines fail to substantiate their expenditures satisfactorily. The motion garnered unanimous support from committee members.

The parliamentary demand underscores the imperative for accountability and transparency in the management of public funds, particularly in addressing critical national challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic.

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