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page 28 ANALYSIS

page 28 ANALYSIS What’s the future of aviation in the Ministry of Transport? By Chris Agabi In 2000, the ECOWAS Parliament recommended that member states…

page 28 ANALYSIS

What’s the future of aviation in the Ministry of Transport?

By Chris Agabi

In 2000, the ECOWAS Parliament recommended that member states should not appoint ministers to preside over aviation, stating that rather, the parliament recognises a Minister of Transport to be in charge, with specialists assisting in the various segments of transportation, including aviation.

Perhaps, in line with that decision, the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo merged the Aviation ministry with Transport in 2007 at the twilight of his exit. But rather than have a department of aviation, what the sector had was a Minister of State for Transport, for the Aviation industry.

But the outcomes were short on expectation and did not yield the expected results, which later led to its demerger by the late President, Umaru Yar’Adua, in 2008 shortly after he assumed office.

The dominant challenge then after the merger and creation of a Minister of State to oversee aviation was lack of cohesion. There was a clear battle of wits between the Minister of State and the substantive Minister, which aviation experts argued affected growth in the industry.

It was widely believed that the power tussle among some ministers and their deputies fuelled Yar’adua’s decision to demerge critical ministries like aviation.

At the Ministry of Transportation, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke preferred to be fully in charge, to the displeasure of the Minister of State. Mr. Felix Hyat, who was to supervise Aviation at the time.

After President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in, some stakeholders again began to call for the merger of the Aviation ministry with the Ministry of Transport, citing high running cost as the major incentive to the merger.

The aviation unions rose in condemnation of the call, while some other stakeholders supported it. In an open letter to President Buhari, the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees, (NUATE) posited that the merger of the Ministry of Aviation with Transport was not the solution to saving cost of governance.

“How efficient can Aviation run under a Ministry of Transport, which may end up with a Minister who has to go again through tutelage on aviation itself?” they wondered.

But can, as Nigeria now has an aviator as a Minister of State for Aviation but who will be supervised by a non-aviator, assuage the fears of the unionists? Would there still be friction and would this affect the aviation growth?

The unions did note that as representatives of the most critical element (the workers) in the productivity chain, they have no particular interest in the merger or de-merger argument, and wish not to be involved in the politics of it. “Our only concern is the profiteering that adversaries of orderly aviation growth seek to make from it,” they claimed.

The unions went further to state, “It is instructive that on the two occasions the ministries were merged under President Obasanjo due to ill-advice from cabals, the actions were reversed to the status quo when it was discovered that such decision was not only retrogressive but was also capable of further destroying the sector.”

By way of educating the President, the unions did also observe that “the fundamental problem in some of our ministries is corruption and bad leadership arising from failure to do the right thing in the appointment of professionals to run such ministries, as these ministries are easier to manage as they were, than when merged to make it unwieldy and complex.”

They averred that “any ministry that is self-sustaining through its parastatals/agencies and has the capacity to contribute to the national treasury should not be merged, but rather should be structured if there is need to do so, with a view to strengthening the institutions for effective and efficient service delivery.”

However, they noted that they “shall stand with Mr. President’s final decision on this matter.”

In the new order, again, a Minister of State, Capt. Hadi Sirika, will oversee affairs at the Aviation ministry, but will be answerable to the Minister of Transport, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi. This suggests that major decisions in the industry would be rooted through the Minister of Transport for action. Would this slow down critical decisions in aviation? It’s hard to tell just yet.

Obviously, Capt. Sirika was appointed to oversee the Aviation ministry because of what was considered his robust understanding of the industry as an aviation expert. Amaechi, too, is being regarded as a thorough manager of men and resources following his successes in River State both in the legislature and in Government House as governor. Thus, industry observers expect a synergy that would work.

Though there is no cause yet to suggest a rivalry would exist between the Amaechi and Capt. Sirika, industry watchers are of the view that both are a unique blend that would deliver value in the aviation sector.

Commenting on the merger, the chairman, Joint Consultative and Negotiating Council (JCNC), Comrade Hector Nnandi, said, “The government has taken its decision and we must fall in line. Before it came to this point, several things may have been considered, so it’s just for us to key in. I think it’s in line with what we have been employed to do. For now, we don’t have any objections to the decision.”

Nnadi noted, “This isn’t the first time. Even during the Obasanjo era, there was some sort of merger, but when we went through it, it didn’t work, so we reverted to the old order. For now, the government of the day has decided so we have no choice.”

Comrade Benjamin Okewu, National President, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) said the unions would adjust to the change.

“Like we always say at the union level, where there are changes, the union leaders should have the capacity to absorb the change and work for the benefit of the people. We will sure expect some teething problems initially. However, the aviation industry is one where things are done with precision. And when we begin to have feelers that decisions taken will affect the precision, obviously we will be worried. But as union leaders, we will sit down with the management and ensure things don’t falter,” he said.

Okewu tasked the ministers on completion of ongoing projects in the aviation industry. “The minister must ensure that all ongoing projects are completed successfully. Aviation is a very sensitive area in terms of security and there is no way you can guarantee security with uncompleted airports. Yes, there is need for change, but our aviation sector cannot be safe with huge abandoned projects.”

Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd.), the Secretary General, Aviation Round Table (ART) welcomed the collapse of Aviation into the Ministry of Transport.

Ojikutu recommended that the

Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) be allowed to execute its autonomy and assert itself in all matters of regulation and enforcement on civil aviation operations, including government/public operations and services providers without interference from the ministry.

He also said that in line with the Privatisation and Commercialisation Act of 2000, government should ensure the total commercialisation of the Federal Airports Authority (FAAN), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), and the passenger and cargo terminal buildings.

He also advised the ministers to ensure that all government security agencies in the airports are under an autonomous central administration and operational control, as it is with the USA Transport Security Administration (TSA).

He further recommended the establishment of three flag carriers that would reciprocate and compete effectively with all foreign airlines on all the BASA routes, and encourage all domestic airlines to fly low fare flights by giving them free or low landing and parking charges and landing facilities at dormant airports.

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