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    Thursday, March 7, 2024

    N4bn COVID-19 Grant: We Are Not Owing Anybody – United Airlines CEO replies Reps

    The Chief Executive Officer, United Nigeria Airlines, Obiora Okonkwo, has refuted allegations of indebtedness to the Federal Government regarding the repayment of COVID-19 grants.

    Okonkwo gave the clarification during an interview with Channels Television on Tuesday.

    Okonkwo clarified that the allocated sum to operators stood at N3 billion, contrary to the reported N4 billion figure.

    “To start with, the money that was given to the operators was just N3bn, not N4bn. I guess that they probably are not properly informed, if they were, there would be no need for this call.

    “The money that was shared among those who received that is such a very small money that nobody should be worried about.

    “There’s no operator that the money would pay one month salary of the staff contingent. So I don’t think that is an issue that we should spend any time to talk about.”

    Responding to insinuations of misappropriation, Okonkwo questioned the rationale behind demands for reimbursement.

    “Did we embezzle money that you’re asking them to return? I wonder what they know that should be spent on. During COVID, some sectors were supported and and even if you look at that money that was given to the aviation sector, compared to the support that they are, that was a very ridiculous amount. it does not even solve any single problem.,” he said.

    Okonkwo criticised the purported lack of proper briefing and engagement with industry stakeholders by the committee overseeing the grants.

    He emphasized that the funds were disbursed as support, not loans, intended to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic on aviation operations.

    “The problem is that the committee has not really been properly briefed and this money came for Ministry of Aviation, it did not come as a form of loan, it came as a form of support, grants to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 which was very, very minor,” he added.

    Highlighting the need for clarity and dialogue, Okonkwo urged that they should engage with operators and ascertain the terms and conditions under which the grants were allocated.

    He cautioned against hasty conclusions and emphasized the importance of seeking accurate information from the Ministry of Aviation.

    “So I’m surprised they have jumped into this conclusion without even interfacing with the operators. I know the National Assembly have good gentlemen who are doing their job. They have called for meetings couple of times but each time some of our representatives attended, the meeting did not hold.

    “So, my advice is that they need to seek information from the Ministry of Aviation, they need to clear the conditions and terms for which that money was given.

    “We owe nobody no money and it was not money that was given for any other reason. It is just a grant. It was very specific and direct,” he added.

    The House of Representatives Public Accounts Committee had issued a one-week deadline to all private airline operators in the country to account for the sum of N4bn given to them by the Federal Government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic or refund same in the absence of justifiable evidence of how the amount was spent.

    The committee, chaired by a member of the Peoples Democratic Party from Osun State, Bamidele Salam, issued the ultimatum on Friday at the resumed investigative hearing into the alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 intervention funds by ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government.

    The committee is investigating over 56 MDAs for alleged mismanagement of the intervention funds.

    The committee said, “All private airlines that received COVID-19 relief funds designated to support the aviation sector are to refund the allocated funds to the Federal Government treasury if they fail to give justifiable evidence of how the money was judiciously spent within a week.”

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