We Launched Virgin Nigeria But One Of My Successors Drove Branson Away – Ex-Minister

A feud with the Federal Government led to the Virgin Group pulling out in 2009.

A Virgin Nigeria aircraft. Inset: Former Minister of Aviation Isa Yuguda (left) and Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson


A former Minister of Aviation, Isa Yuguda, has shed light on the events that led to the early demise of Virgin Nigeria.

Founded in 2004 as a replacement for the then-defunct Nigeria Airways, Virgin Nigeria operated as a joint venture between Nigerian investors and British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. 

However, a feud with the Federal Government led to the Virgin Group pulling out in 2009. This prompted the airline to be renamed Nigerian Eagle Airlines and later Air Nigeria. The business ultimately ceased operations in 2012.

Yuguda, who was the aviation minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo when Virgin Nigeria was established, made a live appearance Friday on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, to address the controversy over the unveiling of Nigeria Air.

The aircraft branded with the Nigeria Air logo being unveiled at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on May 26, 2023. Photo: Channels TV/Sodiq Adelakun.


The Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika held a Nigeria Air unveiling event in Abuja on May 26, days to the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. 

The project has since come under intense scrutiny with the revelation that the single aircraft showcased at the ceremony was in fact a chartered flight, a development described by one probing lawmaker as fraud.

Arguing that airline businesses are based on economies of scale, Yunuga underscored the need for them to partner with the major players internationally.

“You want to join the league (and) we had the opportunity but, unfortunately, we blew it because, soon after I left office, another minister came and another one came, then another one came,” Yuguda said.

“And he decided that it’s not a good transaction for him, so he decided to advise the government that they should drive away Richard Branson from Nigeria. 

“It was just a pity. Richard Branson was on CNN, saying, ‘Nigeria is the worst place you can do business.’ He’s advising no international community member to come and invest in Nigeria. 

“Even the mere fact that Richard Branson was investing in Nigeria – he has Virgin Australia, Virgin America, Virgin India, and so many others, which are very successful airlines.”

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According to him, Nigeria might need no less than $200-$300 million to be able to set up an airline that it can call its own. 

Pointing out the level of competition in the sector, he listed British Airways, Lufthansa, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines among those he described as “the Big”.

The former minister explained that, as world players, the leading airlines are in alliances, such as SkyTeam and oneworld, allowing them to pool together and form a global network.

“For Nigeria Air now to say it wants to compete with BA even on the London route, I don’t know how,” he added.