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Issues as FG begins demolition of aviation agencies in Lagos

Will the Federal Government demolish the Lagos headquarters annexes of aviation agencies? This is a poser that has unsettled the industry in recent times even…

Will the Federal Government demolish the Lagos headquarters annexes of aviation agencies? This is a poser that has unsettled the industry in recent times even as unions are spoiling for war if the government should go ahead with the planned demolition which they said would render thousands of workers without offices. Daily Trust Saturday reports.

In February this year, the Lagos office of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), the agency of the Federal Ministry of Aviation in charge of investigation of air accidents and incidents, which has now been transformed into the Nigeria Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB), was levelled to the ground. 

The cosy and magnificent former headquarters of the bureau located within the precincts of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos, has given way for the expansion of the apron of a new terminal.

While the building has since been demolished despite outcries, the expansion of the apron is yet to be carried out. This explains why nine months after the new terminal was commissioned, only a handful of airlines have relocated because of the apron’s size which cannot accommodate many wide-bodied aircraft at a time.

But the AIB building has given way and with the bureau transforming into NSIB and spreading its tentacles to other modes of transportation like marine and railway, it has no presence whatsoever in Lagos which is the hub of aviation, maritime transport and even railway.

Analysts say it is not clear how the newly created NSIB will survive without an operational office in its hub.

But the idea about relocating agencies to Abuja by the Ministry of Aviation under the leadership of Senator Hadi Sirika is not recent.

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Sirika, through a letter dated May 4, 2020 FMA/PMD/7061/T/4 and signed by the Director, Human Resources, Alhaji Mohammad Shehu, directed all agencies of the ministry to relocate to Abuja.

The agencies whose corporate headquarters had been in Lagos affected by the order are Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).

The letter, captioned: “Relocation of Aviation Agencies to Abuja”, reads in part: “I am directed to remind you of a presidential directive issued in 2012 requesting all the agencies under the Ministry of Aviation to relocate their corporate headquarters to the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) for efficient and effective coordination and enhanced service delivery, and note that eight years after the directive, the agencies are yet to comply.

“Accordingly, considering the current situation and the economic impact worldwide, as well as the need to reduce the cost of governance and manage scarce resources in a sustainable way, it has become imperative and further to the honourable minister’s directive (copy attached) to request that you facilitate and complete the relocation of your corporate headquarters within the next 45 days in line with this earlier directive.”

In line with the ministerial directive, the agencies complied and relocated to Abuja in 2020 under what the unions called “dehumanising conditions”.  

What has changed after relocation?

Two years after the relocation of the agencies, there have been questions about whether the relocation has brought about efficiency and reduction in the cost of governance which were the reasons for the presidential directive. This is because with the absence of befitting headquarters buildings, it became herculean to relocate all the workers to Abuja. 

Findings by our correspondent revealed that in all the agencies most officials in the directorate cadre have relocated to Abuja but the junior staff remain in Lagos largely because there are not enough office accommodations. In addition, the agencies require billions of naira to pay the staff sundry allowances for relocation as contained in their conditions of service.

At the moment, all the agencies are camped inside the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. 

Planned demolition of offices fueling agitation

Sirika recently hinted about plans to demolish the Lagos offices used by NCAA, FAAN and NAMA for the purpose of building an aerotropolis, also known as airport city. It is one of the projects under the Aviation Roadmap unveiled by the minister seven years ago when President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration started where he served as Minister of State for Transportation. 

The plan to demolish the buildings started like a rumour, but Sirika confirmed the move when he visited the Lagos airport last month.

He said, “If I have my way, those structures from the local airport to Bristow will be demolished tomorrow and pave the way for the emergence of a befitting airport city.

“Would you not like to see shopping malls, befitting car parks and other support facilities like you find in other parts of the world?”

Sirika’s confirmation further angered the unions in the industry, including the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) and Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), which leaderships jointly held a congress where they vowed to resist the demolition.

General Secretary of NUATE, Comrade Ocheme Aba, in a chat with our correspondent, warned that any attempt to demolish the Lagos offices without planning for the workers would be met with stiff resistance.

He said, “Those staff that they moved without planning to Abuja; they don’t have accommodation for them, they don’t have offices for them. Majority of them are either not coming to work or working from home or people are just gathered in sheds and so on; and they are working under dehumanised conditions. 

“In some of the agencies, people have not been paid. The money for movement has not been paid. People don’t have houses, some are sleeping in their cars. So that remains the situation. If you now say you are moving all these people to headquarters that don’t exist, you are just dehumanising the people the most, and they don’t have money to give them so that they can go and get houses.

“Quite frankly, if you ask me, all those ramshackle things that are around there, if they clear them and build better edifices there, we as Nigerians will love it. But let us see that if you have FAAN headquarters somewhere so that people can have where to work, not forcing people to work under dehumanising conditions.”

Weighing in on the matter, a former union leader, Comrade Olayinka Abioye, recalled that the move to relocate agencies of aviation started during the time of Dr Harold Demuren as NCAA DG, saying, “The unions proffered a workable solution to the order. We presented a position to management and that put paid to such irresponsible venture. It is ill-motivated, wasteful, unwholesome policy, unnecessary and laden with political manoeuvering.”   

Why is relocation a big deal?

Nigeria is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the global body regulating aviation worldwide.

For instance, most countries’ Civil Aviation Authorities (CAOs) are sited in their seats of power. The Civil Authority of the UK has its headquarters in London. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is located in Washington DC. The Civil Aviation of Canada also known as Transport Canada has its headquarters in Ottawa.

But in Nigeria, the opposition to the full relocation of agencies has been largely fueled by the absence of befitting headquarters buildings in addition to the strategic position of the Lagos airport as the busiest airport in Nigeria, generating more than 70 per cent of the revenues of FAAN. Most of the scheduled commercial airlines operating in the country have their headquarters in Lagos while others without their corporate head offices ‘in Lagos still use the nation’s commercial capital as a hub.

Stakeholders wade in

Foremost aviation think-tank group, Aviation Roundtable (ART) President, Dr Gbenga Olowo, said, “Aerotropolis is desirable in Lagos provided policy summersault will not jettison the project. It is unthinkable that the government will embark on this a few days to its exit bearing in mind that though the government is supposed to be a continuum, it is not so in Nigeria. An aerotropolis will not be a one-day project but will flow into the new administration.” 

A former Commandant of MMA, Group Capt John Ojikutu (Rtd), said, “The plan truly has been there for the movement of the agencies’ headquarters to Abuja. NCAA was the first to move around 2009. Whatever stalled the movement is best known to the agencies.

“The problem is not necessarily about the movement or the relocation, the problem is more of the interference of the ministry; making the agencies look as if they are departments of the ministry. On the other hand, because of the lack of trust or confidence in the airport management, the agencies’ heads too want to be closer to Lagos where it is happening financially.

“Lagos alone contributes about 70 per cent of the aviation earnings, mainly from FAAN and NAMA. The movement now is being intensified because of the possibility of the airports’ concession, especially Lagos.”

We are demolishing to build new structures – Sirika

Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the Minister, Dr James Odaudu, in a chat with our correspondent, said there was nothing like personal agenda in the implementation of the roadmap by the minister.

He said the minister carried stakeholders along in the implementation of the roadmap and clarified that the proposed demolition of the agencies did not amount to rendering the workers redundant as being insinuated.

He said, “What kind of agenda would the minister be pursuing in trying to build the aerotropolis at our airport? Are they saying that we don’t deserve those things? You and I have travelled out of this country, you know what airports look like.

“So building the airport city, how does it portray a personal agenda of the minister? Does he want to take over the lands of the places they are demolishing? People should not just give the dog a bad name in order to hang it. The aerotropolis has been part of the minister’s roadmap, right from day one.”

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