Allen Onyema, Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, is in trouble, a very big one. Since news broke about his alleged involvement in financial fraud and money laundering schemes in the United States, his reputation has taken a dive and the future of his business now hangs in the balance.
Onyema faces a grim possibility of no less than 10 years in prison, plus a hefty fine if convicted, which could be the beginning of the end for the man who only a couple of months ago was feted as a patriot for his gesture in rescuing Nigerian victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
The revelation from the United States has brought unwanted attention and scrutiny to the Chairman of arguably the biggest airline in Nigeria. Now questions are being asked as to the real source of his wealth. How did he become so wealthy all of a sudden? Where did he get the initial funds with which he started the business? Is he the real owner of Air Peace? Or is he a mere front for some shadowy moneybag that pulls the string from behind the scene?
There are more than a few people who believe that Onyema is just a front for the real owners of Air Peace. The man speculated as the face behind the mask is Kingsley Kuku, the former Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and Special Adviser on Niger Delta to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Ondo-State born Kuku was not only an aide to Jonathan; he was a powerful figure in that government and ran the Amnesty Programme with billions of Naira like a personal estate, dispensing favours in a way that built his influence. At a point, he made an attempt to run for the governorship of Ondo State on the PDP platform.
However, with the loss of the PDP in the 2015 general elections, Kuku fell from his Olympian height. In no time, he was sacked and became a guest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which charged him for corruption. He eventually escaped the EFCC net by going on exile to the UK.
That is the man some analysts say is the real owner of Air Peace, or who at least provided a large chunk of the funds that was used in starting up the airline. This belief has been reinforced by the new attention given to the letter written in 2014 by one Diepreye Dikibo, a spokesperson of the ex-Militant Leaders Forum in the Niger Delta, in which he alleged then that Onyema and Kingsley Kuku used funds meant for the Amnesty Programme to float Air Peace.
In the statement, Dikibo directly linked Kuku with the setting up of the Airline, alleging that his appointment as Special Adviser and Chairman of the Amnesty Programme was a huge blessing for Onyema. The ex-militant further claimed that that through Kuku, Onyema had access to a large chunk of the more than sixty billion naira allocated to the Amnesty Programme yearly.
The damning letter which is now widely circulated in the media claimed that the contracts awarded to Onyema and his business run into millions of dollars and that ‘’they are usually inflated and overvalued in a manner designed to short change the Amnesty Programme and steal the billions of naira yearly allocated to the manage the amnesty program me in the Niger Delta.”
The statement also listed some of the contracts awarded to Onyeama’s business outfit to include the demobilization and orientation of former Niger Delta militants (which cost billions of Naira to run). He was also responsible for high valued training contracts (running into billions) in the areas of welding training as well as aviation training for the Presidential Amnesty Programme in countries such as South Africa, The United States and Dubai.
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with Onyema’s business getting juicy contracts from the Amnesty Programme. But if those contracts were deliberately inflated with the goal of using the ‘extra’ for another business in which the head of that government agency which offered the contract is a stakeholder, then there may be some issues that may require the attention of the EFCC.
But for now, that is all speculations and Onyema is presumed innocent.