Wednesday, July 30, 2014 7:47 pm
Osita Chidoka, Nigeria’s new Minister of Aviation, who was sworn in last week by President Goodluck Jonathan, is said to have little experience in aviation matters. He will need to learn fast and listen more to professionals to urgently tackle pressing issues bedevilling the sector, including rampant corruption, stakeholders argue. He replaces Stella Oduah, who was relieved of her duties in February, following series of corruption scandals, two major plane crashes, many deaths, and a loss of confidence in the sector by the Nigerian flying public. There has not been a substantive minister since Oduah was removed. Oduah was accused of usurping the powers of the aviation agencies’ heads and allegedly compelling some of them to buy expensive BMW cars instead of focusing on aviation matters. Chidoka, they say, should avoid that pitfall.
As a former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, many expect Chidoka to use his experience in safety matters to put safety first in the aviation industry. “Safety should be his priority number one. We have had too many plane crashes in recent times and the new minister should ensure that safety comes first, second and last,” said Mohammed Tukur, Deputy Secretary-General, Aircraft Association of Nigeria, AAN. This can only be done if the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and other agencies in the sector are truly independent and are allowed to focus on their duties, stakeholders say.
Specifically, stakeholders say Chidoka should restore the independence of the NCAA; the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA; the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN; the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB, and other agencies in the sector.To do this, they say, he should lift the ban placed on aviation heads against issuing statements in the media or conducting interviews without the approval of the Minister of Aviation. They advise him to discard the office of Coordinating General Manager (Communication) of the Aviation parastatals to allow more transparency in the agencies. The office, currently occupied by the spokesperson of FAAN, intends to coordinate information from aviation agencies before it is released to the public.
According to Captain Dele Ore, chairman, Aviation Round Table, ART, Chidoka does not need to reform the aviation industry again; rather he should reform his own Ministry. “He will not need to reform the sector. The sector has been over-reformed already. He will need to reform his own Ministry,” Ore said. Ore, who was often at loggerheads with Oduah for being too critical of her policies, welcomed the new minister, saying that he has high expectations and hoped his policies would be different from the recent bad ones. He expressed hope that the new minister will move the aviation sector in the right direction by championing the independence of the aviation agencies, implementing the Civil Aviation Policy and ensuring that the money meant for the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, is returned. Ore also tasked the new minister to address the issue of labour, especially as it concerns young but jobless Nigerian graduate pilots.
According to Tuku, Chidoka should also avoid sycophants who may lead him astray for their personal interests. The new Aviation Minister, many say, should stay away from jungle justice that overshadowed some of the achievements recorded by the last administration. He should honour agreements signed by former administrations or review them through legal means instead of resorting to physical fights as it was the case when Oduah was there, with the examples of MAEVIS Nigeria Limited and ACTIS. His focus should be training and retraining of aging staff in virtually all the aviation agencies. He should use all the money budgeted for his ministry to ensure that aviators are well trained and the Nigerian skies are safe again. Many also called on Chidoka to investigate issues relating to debts left by Oduah for projects that have not even started.
They challenged him to run a transparent administration, review through legal means all the bad contracts and expose those who have enriched themselves at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayers. They advised him to continue with the renovation of the Nigerian airports as started by Oduah but he should make it transparent and ensure that the jobs meet international standard and the bids for projects are open and not given to family members or tribesmen. Some airports renovated by Oduah were severely criticised this year by the chairperson, House committee on Aviation, Nkiruka Chidubem Onyejeocha, who described the work done as substandard.
More importantly, many say, Chidoka would need to ensure that the names of the aviation heads appointed after Oduah was removed, are forwarded to the National Assembly for confirmation. They argue that he should not allow people to work in acting capacity indefinitely while those who have been appointed wait to take their job. This is the case at the NCAA, where Usman Mukhtar, who was removed from the AIB and appointed as NCAA Director-General, has been waiting for confirmation for months. There are several other similar examples. Many also want Chidoka to address other issues regarding passengers’ rights, labour matters as well as carry the unions’ leaders along.
In the end, Chidoka would need to be open minded and press-friendly instead of persecuting some journalists. He would need to listen to friends and critics alike to have a full grasp of happenings in the sector. Above all, Chidoka’s litmus test will come in September. He should ensure that Nigeria does not lose its coveted FAA Category 1 Safety Certification, which has allowed Nigerian airlines and crew to fly directly to the United States.