Since 2015, aviation agencies in the country have been administered without statutory boards to supervise their affairs. With the industry going through tough times, many experts wonder why the boards are still not in place.
Despite being established with the full complements of governing boards, Nigerian aviation agencies have been operating without the statutory boards for more than six years while the respective agencies bleed.
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Many aviation experts described the situation as an aberration and illegality that must not continue.
Aviation worldwide is a highly regulated industry. It is a sector run strictly by professionals and most countries strive persistently to insulate the industry from political interference and overbearing political authorities.
The boards are meant to check these intrusions, first to ensure that professionalism is entrenched and concomitantly improve safe flight operations.
The boards of aviation agencies are also meant to sit over contract awards, recruitment and promotion of staff.
For years, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which is the apex regulatory authority; the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) do not have boards.
While there have been arguments over the necessity and desirability of the boards, most experts and stakeholders think that as long as the Acts establishing the agencies—which stipulates that the agencies are governed by boards—have not been repealed, it would be illegal and to maintain the status quo.
For instance, the NCAA Act stipulates the appointment of professionals as chairman and members of the board, as well as representatives from three ministries.
Part three of the NCAA Act said, “The Authority shall have a Governing Board (in this Act referred to as “the Board”) which shall consist of: (a) Chairman; (b)one representative not below the rank of a Director of the following Ministries: (i) the Federal Ministry of Aviation or the Ministry for the time being responsible for Aviation; (ii) the Federal Ministry of Defence or the Ministry for the time being responsible for Defence; and (iii) the Federal Ministry of Communications or the Ministry for the time being responsible for Communications.”
Also, the NIMET Act of 2003 stipulates that: “The Board shall consist of— (a) a part-time chairman; (b) one representative of the Federal Ministry of Aviation; (c) one representative of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; (d) one representative of the Federal Ministry of Transport; (e) one representative of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources; (f) one representative of the Federal Ministry of Environment; (g) two other persons to represent the public interest and who shall be persons who possess cognate experience in meteorological matters…”
One argument against the boards is that they constitute a drain pipe in some instances.
However, stakeholders say the experience has shown that the agencies are better run under the supervision of their boards while they deliver better services in the aspect of providing navigational services and surveillance, which is the function of NAMA; better airport facilitation, which the FAAN exists to provide while the NCAA is better positioned to regulate the industry in an atmosphere free of political interference and the whims and caprices of a political appointee.
Four years ago, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the appointment of boards of directors to the five agencies in the sector.
The appointments were announced through a circular signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
However, for almost two years, the Minister of Aviation Sen. Hadi Sirika did not inaugurate the boards. This caused friction between him and the former Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who at the time gave all ministers in Buhari’s cabinet an ultimatum to inaugurate the boards of their agencies.
The directive pitched the former chairman against the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, who also similarly failed to inaugurate the board of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Trust Fund (NSITF) domiciled in his ministry. Then the former chairman also turned to the Ministry of Aviation, directing the minister to, without further delay, inaugurate the boards appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was however learnt that one of the reasons Sirika failed to inaugurate the boards at the time was because some of them did not comply with the Acts. The Acts establishing the agencies clearly stated that those to be appointed must be professionals and experts in the aviation industry.
But it was not clear if the minister made a move to replace the members who are not qualified to be on the boards three years after.
Dr Gbenga Olowo, who presides over the Aviation Roundtable, the foremost Aviation think-tank, thinks this is not in keeping with due process. He asked the minister to inaugurate the agencies’ boards.
He said the failure of the minister to inaugurate the boards for the aviation agencies could cast a thick shadow on transparency, accountability and responsibility in the sector.
Olowo, the President of Sabre Network, said, “Interim boards can fill the administrative vacuum, but agencies are not contemplated to run without functional boards for periods exceeding three months. ART is of the view that the aviation sector policymakers adopt the international aviation best corporate governance for the promotion of safety.
“Sirika should as a matter of urgency inaugurate boards of directors for the respective agencies in order to avoid a continuous breach of rules by the minister.”
The General Secretary, Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Comrade Abdulrazaq Saidu, echoed the sentiments.
“ANAP for instance has written numerous letters to the minister to remind him of this oversight, but he has failed to respond to any of our letters on the issue.
“Aviation workers are suffering because of the several actions of the minister since he came on board. For instance, training of personnel has been relegated to the background in recent years.”
The immediate past General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Olayinka Abioye said it was an aberration to continue to run the agencies without the statutory boards.
He tasked stakeholders, especially operators doing business with the agencies to prevail on the minister to inaugurate the boards, saying the absence of the boards affects the smooth running of the agencies.
He said, “The non-inauguration of the boards shows that something is actually wrong in the sector. Since the Acts setting up the agencies stipulate that they should have a board of directors; the minister ought to have set them up immediately they were appointed by President Buhari.
“The implication is that the minister wants to still control the happenings in the parastatals. You are aware that by the Acts establishing these agencies, they are supposed to report to a board and in the absence of a board, the minister takes charge. So, if the minister has the audacity to set aside the directive of Mr President, it goes to show that something is definitely wrong with our system.
“The minister and the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) have a limit on what they can approve and spend without recourse to the boards of directors. Some of his activities over the years indicate that he has flagrantly disobeyed the extant rules for the industry.”
But another Aviation analyst, Mr Chris Aligbe, sees the issue a different way. He said the minister is not to blame for the non-composition of the boards.
“Constitution of a board is a political issue and such a political issue is determined at the level of the president and maybe the party.
“Also in certain circumstances, the boards become very necessary particularly when you have a sector where so much is going wrong.
“I must tell you also that with my experience in the past, the boards have not made any impact in the areas, particularly in aviation I haven’t seen the impact of boards rather they become an additional problem or a clog in the wheel of progress,” Aligbe said.
While the minister has refused to speak on the matter, as several enquiries were not replied to, experts assume that the minister might have reasons for not inaugurating the board.
Whatever reason he might have, experts say it cannot override the provisions of the law. Therefore, the earlier the right thing is done, the better for the integrity and preservation of the sanctity of the sector.