September 19, 2018 / 6:29 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Nigeria to suspend national airline project

(Adds details)

LAGOS, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Nigeria has suspended its plan to relaunch its national airline, a junior aviation minister said on Wednesday.

The government had planned to launch the prestige project in December to make good on a promise by Muhammadu Buhari when he ran for president in 2015. He will seek re-election in February.

“I regret to announce that the Federal Executive Council has taken the tough decision to suspend the national carrier project in the interim,” Hadi Sirika, junior aviation minister, said on Twitter after the weekly cabinet meeting.

“All commitments due will be honoured,” he said. No reason was given for the decision.

In a separate statement, he said: “The suspension was strategic and had nothing to do with politics.”

The airline was part of a plan to improve infrastructure that has suffered due to decades of neglect and underinvestment. The government says improvement will require private investment.

The plan to relaunch the carrier was announced in July. A private operator, sought through a Public Private Partnership, would manage it according to a document seen by Reuters.

The plan was for the government to own no more than 5 percent. The chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines said in August the airline was frontrunner to set up and manage the carrier.

Nigeria Airways, the original national airline, operated for 45 years until 2003. Air Nigeria, its successor, ran from 2005 to 2012. (Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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