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Festus Keyamo: Reaching For The Sky

By Ernest Adadu Slow but steady, normalcy is beginning to return to the Nigerian aviation sector, thanks to the Honourable Minister of Aviation and Aerospace…

By Ernest Adadu

Slow but steady, normalcy is beginning to return to the Nigerian aviation sector, thanks to the Honourable Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo SAN. More revolutionary transformation beckons.

A radical lawyer and rights activist who made a name for himself through civil society advocacy before venturing into politics, Mr. Keyamo served as Minister of State for Labour and Employment in the immediate past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and came to the Aviation Ministry at a time the controversies surrounding the botched attempt to launch a national carrier was yet to subside.

Nigerians were asking so many questions with little or no answer coming forth and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must have found something special in Keyamo to saddle him with the onerous responsibility of cleaning the augean stable in the Aviation Ministry. A no stranger to controversies, he is never the man to shy away from taking decisions regardless of how tough they appear. So gradually, as he settled into a Ministry he had no prior technical expertise, he began to untie the knotty ropes that held down the Ministry and the agencies under it.

First was his decision to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to look into the record books of the Ministry from the past, most especially as it pertains to the Nigeria Air fiasco. He had suspended the operations of the non-existing Airline on August 31, 2023 few days after taking the oath of office as a Minister, saying “the whole thing was not a good deal for Nigeria and that it was merely Ethiopian Air flying the Nigeria flag”.

With the approval of the President, Keyamo tried to steady the ship of the Ministry by replacing 33 Directors who were appointed on the eve of the last administration’s departure. This was indeed a loud statement of intent and a clear determination to ring changes and bring about a new lease of life in the Ministry.

Another area that got the immediate attention of the Minister was the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), a parastatal under his Ministry. He directed that the headquarters of the agency be relocated back to Lagos where they have always had their operational base.

In a statement made available to the press after the directive of the Minister, Mrs. Obiageli Orah, Director of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection of FAAN said “Those affected by the decision to move the Headquarters to Abuja have since returned to Lagos as there is no office space for them in Abuja”.

How could a critical and technical hands-on agency like FAAN be relocated to a new city without first making provisions for adequate offices to accommodate their staff? If that was supposed to be a question, the second paragraph of Mrs Orah’s statement gives us a clue of an answer to it.

“Having returned to Lagos, the Authority would be liable to pay them DTA (DUTY TOUR ALLOWANCE) because technically they are working OUT OF STATION as their official posting is to ABUJA. The Minister has decided to stop this waste of public resources and rip-off on the public purse”.

This shows that the relocation of the Headquarters to Abuja was a very crafty way to line the pockets of some fat cats and big men in the agency who will be living their normal lives and working from the comfort of their offices in Lagos while smiling to the bank through claims of estacodes and other traveling allowances as Lagos would have been designated as an out-station when in real sense, it is the actual Corporate Headquarters. Thankfully, the Honourable Minister intervened.

It would be recalled that barely one month to the expiration of the tenure of the administration of President Buhari, the then Minister of Aviation ordered the relocation of some agencies from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos for their office building to be demolished and pave way for the construction of an aerotropolis.

If the idea of the construction of an aerotropolis is a developmental step worthy of commendation, the right thing to do would have been to find another befitting structure to accommodate those agencies rendering critical services in the aviation industry within the city.

The proximity of these services to the Lagos airport which handles more than 50% of aviation passenger traffic in Nigeria daily should have been a thing to consider in relocating the agency. It was for such a singular reason that the Obasanjo administration relocated the Nigerian Shippers Council out of Abuja back to Lagos even after they had built a magnificent structure in the nation’s capital to accommodate their services.

As someone who spent his early childhood going about with his father, a Jehovah’s Witness faithful; sharing tracks, handbills, and newsletters to the public for free, Keyamo was tutored in the act of bringing the ‘gospel’ to the doorsteps from infant and the aviation gospel is now beginning to feel the impact of this workaholic in government.

This background could also be partly responsible for Mr. Keyamo’s vast knowledge in fields assumed to be strange to him and his strength in approaching every argument from an informed position, always quoting facts and figures to buttress his points.

For a man who began his professional legal practice at the Law Firm of the erudite social critic and rights activist, the Late Chief Gani Fawahinmi, Keyamo has found it difficult to divorce himself from the crusade for prudence and cost savings in government and to think that he can continue to cohabit with the wrongs of the past is like asking an architect to live in a house built on quicksand. I’m sure wherever Chief Fawehinmi is watching from right now, he would certainly be proud of the man Mr Keyamo has become.

The Bible says “When the foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do?”. Mr Keyamo is now providing an answer to this age-long question as a faulty foundation needs to be destroyed and a new one laid. For efficient and effective service delivery, a new solid foundation is needed to accommodate the realities of today and the dreams for tomorrow in the country’s aviation industry and that’s exactly what the Honourable Minister is doing.

At a valedictory session by President Buhari to thank his Ministers and those who served in his government in May 2023, Mr Keyamo shocked his colleagues by declaring the position of “Minister of State” as strange to the constitution. Taking to the microphone with great confidence, Mr Keyamo who was first appointed as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources before being redeployed to Labour and Employment by President Buhari said the position of Minister of State is unconstitutional.

He explained that it is difficult to rate the performances of Ministers of State since their discretion was shackled with the discretion of the substantive Ministers as any original ideas developed by a Minister of State has to pass through the table of another colleague in cabinet before they can sail through for consideration by the Federal Executive Council.

If Mr. Keyamo had any regret as a Minister of State or an unimplemented policy during his time playing second fiddle in his first stint as a Minister, God answered his prayers. Through President Tinubu, he has showcased and distinguished himself as a top-notch administrator and policy expert and so far, he has not betrayed the trust nor abused the confidence of Mr. President.

There are laudable plans by the Minister to get concessionaires to build befitting offices for Aviation agencies in Lagos and Abuja. Over time, estate developers and rent-seekers have continued to connive with agencies of the federal government to milk the public purse through inflated rent bills that under normal circumstances, are huge enough to erect permanent structures of high standard for those agencies.

The aviation sector in the country today can be said to be in safe hands with Mr. Keyamo as Minister because he has proven himself to be a team player, ready to listen and work with expert opinions while building capacity across the board. He has put everyone concerned with the safety of our airspace on their toes and strived to rid the industry of indolence.

In his effort to encourage and attract private sector investment in the aviation industry, Mr Keyamo is currently leading a strong delegation of industry players to France for a bilateral engagement which he believes will open avenues for productive collaborations and investment opportunities in the Nigerian aviation industry.

In 4 years, not only would Mr Keyamo have left a mark in the sand of time, but he would have left an indelible footprint in the Nigerian aerospace sector and what he needs from all is prayers and continued support.

*Adadu writes for 3rd Eye Dimension, United Kingdom.

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