It has emerged that troubled airline Aero Contractors, which suspended all of its flights last week, may be in deeper trouble than was previously revealed to the public, SaharaReporters investigations show. Those cancellations stemmed from a dispute with workers at the airline regarding operation and pay.
Over the weekend, about 95% of the company’s workers confirmed that they received emergency sack letters from the management, and they today began a labour protest over their sacking. Some of the staff members who spoke anonymously with SaharaReporters said the decline of the troubled airline started a while ago when convicted rogue banker, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru came into Aero at the time she held sway at Oceanic Bank and was one of the most powerful figures in the economy.
It would appear that in her bid to seize full control of Aero and to use it as a tool to engage in money laundering from Oceanic Bank, Mrs. Ibru's actions put her at loggerheads with the majority shareholder and technical partner at Canadian Helicopters (CHC). After a series of misunderstandings and in attempt to avoid involvement in shady business deals, CHC withdrew from Aero Contractors, leaving Mrs. Ibru with her desire: complete control of the airline and the opportunity to deploy it effectively as a conduit from money laundering.
Perhaps as a result, several of the so-called investments Mrs. Ibru brought into Aero remain undocumented. In essence, financial officers say, some of those investments only existed on paper, plunging Aero into debts from which it never recovered. By the time Mrs. Ibru was convicted of bank fraud and money laundering by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), she completely owned Aero Contractors. Curiously however, the EFCC did not list Aero Contractors as one of the assets to be confiscated by the agency, although the commission claimed to have retrieved assets that were stolen by Mrs. Ibru.
A company letterhead shows that Chief Michael Ibru and Mrs. Cecilia Ibru remain the co-chairs of the company, while her sons, O.V Ibru and O.J Ibru are co-owners. At 82, Chief Ibru is in a vegetative state, close family sources say, and has no idea what is happening to the company. Regardless of Mrs. Ibru’s criminal conviction, the Central Bank of Nigeria gave huge amount of relief funds to bail Aero Contractors out of its difficulties even though expatriates in charge of the company in Port Harcourt and Lagos had been sacked in 2010. After Mr. Obaro Ibru was named acting Managing Director, he hired Enyi Omoke who had retired from the United Bank of Africa (UBA).
Before Omoke, two other Heads of Finance who were brought in for that position were sacked from office because they failed to play the fraud game the way Mrs. Ibru wanted it. Another notorious character and long-time stooge of Mrs Ibru in Oceanic Capital, Feyi Akinbile, was also brought in to handle Aero's Human Resources on contract. When the CBN relief funds arrived, they were balkanized and laundered by Mrs. Ibru, her children and their lackeys the same way Mr. Ibrahim Jimoh laundered defunct Air Nigeria's funds through his so-called "Energy Bank" in Ghana.
In an effort to avoid an obvious violation of aviation laws, which forbid the appointment of a non-Aeronautic expert as Managing Director, one Captain George was made a figure head MD of Aero Contractors, but staff members say “Captain George” answered as MD only when it comes to operational matters, while the criminal trio of Obaro Ibru, Enyi Omoke and Feyi Akinbile had a free hand in milking the company as it suited them, while Mrs. Ibru called the shots from the shadows.
Meanwhile, Aero Contractor’s debts continued to mount, while the rotary wing of the business in Port Harcourt collapsed gradually. As a result of the company’s debts, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), the country’s debt management agency, took over 60% of Aero Contractors’ shares.
But while workers at Aero expected AMCON to leverage their stake in the new ownership structure and take control of the company, the agency connived with the Ibrus and left in place the management put in by Mrs. Ibru and her sons. That development made workers and aviation experts wonder if the AMCON debt buy-back was simply a ruse to help the Ibrus escape investigation for squandering CBN bailout funds.
Within the company, with six months to the expiration of Akinbile’s contract, Temitope Fagbemi (the current Human Resources manager) was employed from defunct Air Nigeria to understudy Akinbile. Because of the atrocities perpetrated or condoned by these Managers, the Managing Director in Lagos was sacked and Enyi Omoke took up courses in IATA in preparation to becoming taking up that position, because of the consciousness that the NCAA would not approve of a non-professional assuming the position. For now, Obaro, Mrs. Ibru's son, continues as acting MD.
But the General Manager of the rotary wing in Port Harcourt was sacked, and Akinbile seconded to the position after the expiration of his contract in Human Resources in Lagos. It was another sleight of hand that the NCAA ought to have rejected as well but the agency has yet to be made aware of it. Staff members who spoke to SaharaReporters say they have continued to suffer in the company under a weird management structure that has jettisoned merit for nepotism, noting the absence of salary increases.
They attribute the current mayhem to the contracting staff to a private coy without discussing it with staff Union. They lamented that the current managers brought in by Mrs. Ibru and her scions know absolutely nothing about Aero Contractors, and accused them of coming in simply to defraud one of Nigeria’s oldest and safest airlines, and in the process, to ground it.