There is no love lost between members of the National Assembly and stakeholders in the aviation sector over the intervention of the lawmakers in the regulatory functions of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
The development has raised questions about the need to draw a line between legislative oversight and regulatory functions of government agencies.
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Two issues that created a cold war in the industry recently have to do with the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) of a start-up airline, the Nigeria Eagle (NG Eagle) and the new charges by the ground handling firms operating in the sector; both of which fall under the purview of NCAA.
The NCAA is the regulatory body for aviation in Nigeria. It became autonomous with the passing into law of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 by the National Assembly and its assent by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The act not only empowers the authority to regulate aviation safety without political interference but also carry out oversight functions of airports, airspace, meteorological services, as well as economic regulations of the industry.
On no account, according to the regulation, should any agent of government or minister dictate to the authority when matters of safety and or economic regulations of the industry are concerned. This is what aviation entails globally. The International Civil Aviation Orgnanisation (ICAO), which is the apex global aviation regulatory body, recognises only each country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and such CAA is envisaged to enjoy absolute autonomy in taking decisions on matters of safety.
While the AOC falls under the safety oversight of the NCAA, the issue of charges is part of the economic regulatory functions of the authority.
But the power of NCAA came under questioning recently and is still generating disquiet in the polity when the lawmakers, acting on a petition from some union members, directed the authority to halt the process of granting AOC to NG Eagle. The AOC is the licence for an airline to commence commercial operation.
The NG Eagle is being created by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) which took over the management of Arik Air in 2017. Because the NN Eagle is being created with the resources of Arik Air as part of AMCON’s divestment move, some aviation workers kicked and said Arik’s debt to aviation agencies, especially the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), might be in jeopardy if Arik was liquidated. Another segment of the workers backed the divestment move.
It was on the basis of this that the lawmakers gave the order which is generating ripples in the sector. On the new charges approved for ground handlers, the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation similarly waded in, albeit drawing the ire of stakeholders whose concern stemmed from the perceived interference in the regulatory functions of NCAA. This, they argue, is odd and does not portray the aviation sector in Nigeria in good light.
The President of Aviation Roundtable (ART), Dr Gbenga Olowo, said the NCAA Act was a creation of the National Assembly, and that since it had been signed into law, the authority should operate autonomously without interference.
However, one issue raised by stakeholders is the urgent need to compose the board of NCAA, as the board will guide it or any other agency in aviation to take decisions.
An aviation analyst, Dr Daniel Young, said, “These people do not know where they draw the line. Having legislative oversight does not include interfering with legislative oversight. There are certain decisions that the NCAA makes that are sacrosanct based on regulations and the act. It is not the duty of the legislators to interfere with the day-to-day running of aviation in Nigeria.
“They are usurping the role of the minister and the regulators. It is only when things get to a head and cannot be resolved with the ministerial apparatus that the legislators are allowed to interfere or intervene.”
But another analyst who spoke in support of the legislators argued that “We must understand that the National Assembly is truly the symbol of democracy; which is the government of the people. So if democracy is actually driven by the people’s will, whatever is not approved by NASS which is holding the power on behalf of the people cannot stand. In Nigeria, the executive gets away with everything because the people have refused to stand by the NASS.”