Fixing round pegs in round holes is a natural catalyst in fast-tracking growth in forward-looking organizations. It engenders cordiality and promotes industrial harmony through mutual respect. The experience of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), between 2017 and now, attests to the fact that leadership is pivotal to development. Few years back, considerations were made on the need to fix the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency’s many shortfalls, ranging from faulty equipment, staff low morale to managing the crisis anticipated in the shutting down of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport for six weeks. Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Agency, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, who is experienced, savvy and at home with contemporary nuances in the management of aviation projects, was assigned the task. Since then, the story has been onward together.
The status of NAMA derives from the expertise required to guard flights into and outside the country, as well as protect the Nigeria’s airspace from infiltration by moles and rascals. The sophistication required for the job is high. Besides, the management team must be versatile and up about. These two requirements culminated in making Akinkuotu the man of the moment in NAMA. Little wonder, he is looked up to as a valuable, well-treasured leader and a role model. The accolades did not come by accident. He earned them.
The dynamism he deployed to the handling of the closure of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport shortly after assuming office confounded many. His focus on upgrading facilities at Kaduna Airport, and upgrading its runway was near magical. New equipment – CAT II Instrument Landing System (ILS) and Distance Measuring Equipment – were installed at the Kaduna Airport to enable it cope with the volume of traffic diverted from Abuja. Not only that, equipment and personnel were deployed to strategic areas of need such that when the repairs began, the Kaduna Airport was fully fit to absorb the shock. NAMA played a critical role in the running of the Kaduna Airport during the entire six-week period. More than any other time in recent aviation history in Nigeria, the acronym NAMA now conjectures ‘Help, Solution or Answer’ in the industry. It succeeded in critical equipment supplies to Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano where new CAT II Doppler Very High Omni-Directional Radio Range equipment were installed. They are not alone, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, as well as Benin and Port Harcourt Airports have also benefitted from such provisions. Thanks to Akinkuotu’s new lease of life at NAMA.
One of life’s beauties is being royal in the heart of people. Akinkuotu’s rich human development initiative is paying off for the entire staff of NAMA, and they are thankful for the experience. Before he came in the saddle, NAMA staffs were kinder small before their colleagues working with the Federal Civil Aviation Agency due to pay disparities. The staff jaw-jawed with Akinkuotu and necessary machineries were put in place and before long, the salaries were harmonized.
Today, Akinkuotu’s avuncular charm has made him a mentor to a succession of aviation staff. Another area he has demonstrated his problem-solving gusto is in the provision of communication infrastructure. To solve the communication challenges confronting pilots in upper airspace, NAMA in 2018 deployed four stand-alone Jotron, high powered and very high frequency long range communication radios at the Lagos east and Lagos west, as well as the Kano west and Kano East Area Control Centres.
The deployment is strategic, as the backup technology can easily be used in case of satellite failure, maintenance of satellite or degradation of satellite integrity. The Akinkuotu’s leadership has installed internet protocol equipment in Kaduna, Akure, Benin, Calabar, Ilorin and Enugu, which now facilitate ease of communication with the headquarters in Lagos. In same fashion, last resort base station transceivers have been deployed across airports nationwide to augment air-ground communication, just as aero-mobile transceivers have also been procured for vehicular movement at the airside, as well as in high frequency data/voice transceivers for Aeronautical Fixed Telecommunication Network. This is excluding the replacement of very high frequency radios at the eight remote sites in Lagos, Kano, Wukari, Sokoto, Abuja and Maiduguri.
Akinkuotu’s exploits at NAMA is not without notice to the top echelon. The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika was full of commendations for him for his contributions to the success of the implementation of the Aviation Sector Roadmap of the federal government. The minister who was in Lagos for the commissioning of newly executed projects by NAMA was taken aback by the dynamism of the Akinkuotu led administration and within a short time. Projects commissioned included the renovation and remodelling of the ultramodern Centrex building housing the main distribution frame for the agency’s Private Automatic Branch Exchange infrastructure, CAT II instrument landing system/Distance Measurement Equipment at Runway 18 in Lagos among others.
One factor that drove in the achievements was the provision of office accommodation for staff. Shortly after assuming office, Akinkuotu called for the architectural re modelling of a warehouse to offices where the human element could plan, work and relax. It paid off, several officers without offices now smile for having commodious avenue to ventilate their endowment and move the sector forward.
The durability of Akinkuotu’s image as the action man in the sector is not strange. It is a function of commitment to values of setting good example in every sphere where he finds himself. He has also been able to articulate a dream of prowess and success. These qualities have been vivid in the past three years and the world cannot, but ask for more. He has promised to continue to contribute his best to the sector, it is best that as he begins a new performance year, he should be encouraged to do more as a committed change maker in the airspace management sector of the economy.
Sensitive and critical as the aviation sector is, it is incumbent on the government that appointment into the sector be considered on their merits. Pseudo considerations should not rear their ugly heads. Let experience, credo and passion for the job be the criteria for selection.
Ayela, a veteran journalist, writes from Lagos