Stories by Louis Ibah
In a bid to boost the contribution of the aviation sector to national growth, the Federal Government recently named new Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) for the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident and Investigation Bureau (AIB), and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET).
In a statement signed by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mr. Sabiu Zakari, which was made available to the media, the government named Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, a pilot and aeronautical engineer to take charge of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). Akinkuotu, until the appointment the Managing Director/CEO of Aero Contractors Airlines. In the same vein, Prof. Sani Abubakar Mashi, was appointed to take over from Dr. Anthony Anuforom, as Director General/CEO of the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), while Mr. Akinola Olateru, was named Commissioner/CEO of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) in place of Dr. Felix Abali. According to the statement, Olateru is reputed as an engineer, a trained Air Accident Manager and Certified Safety Officer with Aircraft Maintenance Engineering licenses both in the United States of America ( USA) and the United Kingdom. And until his appointment he was the Managing Director/CEO of Omni-Blu Aviation Limited, a private charter airline granted an Air Operators’ Certificate by the NCAA in December 2015. Mashi, is a Professor of Geography at the University of Abuja.
Why the changes
Daily Sun learnt that with dwindling government revenues, the thinking was that it was about time the agencies are repositioned (just like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria) to be self sufficient financially. For the past five years, it was learnt that FAAN had been operating independent of government or budgetary fundings. Indeed, it was gathered that in recent months, airline operators had been complaining about the bureaucracy in the system and the poor quality of services they were getting from some of the parastatals insisting that there was the need for drastic measures to be taken to make them more private sector friendly with the hiring of competent hands as CEOs outside these parastatals.
Therefore, the choice of the three CEOs, which was a clear departure from previous practices where successors were chosen out of the hierarchy in the parastatals was deliberate. The government therefore expect Akinkuotu, Mashi and Olateru to bring in their wealth of experience from the private sector to assist in re engineering the three agencies, make them better managed as businesses, improve their service delivery to clients especially the airline industry where two of the CEOs hitherto were operators, and boost their Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) base. Chairman of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt, Nogie Meggison in a statement after their appointment thanked the Federal government and the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, for appointing two members of the AON to serve as Chief Executive Officers of the two important parastatals in the industry. “Their appointment is quite encouraging and a display of government’s confidence in the ability and experience of these fine gentlemen to take the two agencies to greater heights,”Meggison said.
Most industry analysts agree that for the three CEOs to succeed, they must first pull down the huge bureaucratic wall erected over the years in these establishments and which tends to be resistant to new innovations and changes in line with global trends. And there are other challenges which they also have to deal with in order to succeed – fighting an entrenched culture of corruption; the recovery of huge debts owed by airlines; sourcing funds to upgrade infrastructure; and labour related issues like outstanding staff salaries and allowances, promotions, and payment of pension to retirees.
NAMA as case study
Of the three agencies, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) offers the best case study on the state of rot enveloping these parastatals. Indeed, Captain Akinkuotu has perhaps more work to do than the two other CEOs. And just like he did recently when hired by AMCON to clear the mess in Aero Contractors, Akinkuotu must be very firm and resolute in his fight against corruption and the bureaucratic warlords in NAMA.
Early last year, complaints by operators about the poor state of radar and other navigational aids at most Nigerian airport despite the billions of naira budgeted for NAMA for such infrastructure upgr ade, had forced the EFCC to raid the offices of top officials of NAMA. The result of the raid was the discovery of a massive looting and misappropriation of funds of earmarked funds for NAMA by its top executive. At present, the former Managing Director of NAMA, Mr. Ibrahim Abdulsalam has been charged alongside six other executives for alleged stealing and conversion of NAMA’s N6.8 billion for private use.
Akinkuotu must therefore instill a new culture of accountability and probity in NAMA if he must succeed. Airline operators currently owe aviation parastatals about N47billion from services provided for their operations. Of this figure, NAMA is owed N8.1billion. The new NAMA boss has a huge task of getting back this monies and this may involve a lot of re-negotiation of the debts. However, there are still some critical issues the new managing director of NAMA must work hard to resolve if he is to restore confidence among airline owners and especially pilots who continue to decry the sorry state of Instrument Landing System (ILS) at some of the airports in the country with attendant effect on flight operations and the revenues of the airlines.
Pilots in the country have repeatedly complained of poor, obsolete and non-functional navigational aids, which do not provide proper guidance to landing and take off of flights noting that these sort of equipment impair smooth flight operation in Nigeria’s airspace and endanger flight safety.
Last December, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) had cause to bemoan the inability to operate schedule flights under minimum visibility in Nigeria due to the harmattan haze. Several flights had to be cancelled with hundreds of passengers left stranded and airlines recording losses in millions of naira.
Air Traffic Controllers (ATC), who manage the radar and communication facilities in Nigeria’s air space have equally raised an alarm calling for an urgent improvement in controller-pilot communication and demanding that a state of emergency be declared so that these infrastructure deficit could be fixed before aircraft start falling from the skies.
Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) last week bemoaned the absence of the right navigational aids to aid aircraft landing and takeoff during this harmattan season. The Chairman of AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison who decried the situation also described it as “appalling.”
“We express our gross disappointment and deepest displeasure at the deplorable state of Navigational Aids at airports around the country which makes flying in the Nigerian airspace virtually impossible during harmattan season thereby increasing the sufferings of passengers and disrupting their plans due to flight cancellations,” said Meggison
“Most international and local flights had to be diverted to Cotounu , which is rather unfortunate because the issue of the harmattan haze is a yearly seasonal occurrence as Nigeria has mainly Raining (Thunderstorms) and Dry Seasons (Harmattan).
“This is very unfair to operators who cannot charge passengers for the extra cost the airline has to bear on return or cancelled flights and we have to feed and lodge them in a hotel. NAMA and FAAN need to be more responsible to ensure that our airports are equipped with the right landing aids to allow 24hours operations in any weather condition.
“How then can we make money to pay the high taxes and levies being imposed by the agencies and parastatals or contribute our quota to the National GDP this way?” Meggison queried. With his vast experience in the industry, many analysts are of the view that with time Akinkuotu would work out ways of resolving the many challenges confronting NAMA so that clients can get good services in return for their money.
On his part, Olateru, the new AIB boss has a task of boosting the infrastructure and human capital at nigeria’s foremost accident investigation agency. No one really prays for an aircrash. But where it’s inevitable that it does occur, Olateru must ensure that Nigeria has a state-if-the-art laboratory with the requisite personnel to investigate, analyse the cause of the accident, and ensure timely publications of accident causes as well as profer measures on how to stem future occurrences. That’s what similar agencies do all over the world. Such capabilities if gotten in Nigeria will stem the huge capital flights associated with bringing in foreign experts and ferrying aircraft parts abroad for analysis whenever accidents occur. It could also serve as a source of foreign income for Nigeria as neighbouring countries will be drawn to patronise it rather than go to abroad.
No leadership crisis in NIMET, says DG
Newly appointed Director General/CEO of Nigeria’s Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Prof. Sani Abubakar Mashi, says there is no crisis in transition between him and erstwhile CEO, Dr. Anthony Anuforom as well as between the current management and staff bothering on promotions in the agency.
Mashi was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, to take over from Dr. Anthony Anuforom, in a recent shake up affecting heads of key aviation sector parastatals in the country. News making the rounds last week also suggested a transition crisis in the agency with insinuations that Mashi who is yet to assume duties might have been asked by the Federal Government not delay taking over, but to first spend his intial three months (January to March) under-studying Anuforum before eventually taking over. Anuforom, is an internationally acclaimed atmospheric physicists who was hired by President Obasanjo to assist re-engineer NIMET to a world class meteorological agency.
Mashi, until his appointment was a Geography lecturer with specialty in Environmental Application of Remote Sensing at the University of Abuja.
Mashi, in a statement said “in line with letter and spirit of the letter of my appointment and contrary to the insinuation in the said publication, I have since assumed duty at NiMet. Already, myself and Dr Anuforom have initiated a seamless transition/succession plan and been conducting the business of the Agency”.
“In the past ten days, I can attest to the benefits of this succession plan. Together with the out-going DG, we have not only been going through technical and operational procedures together but have also visited some of NiMet’s critical installations where I was adequately briefed on their workings”, the statement emphasised.
According to the DG, within this same period, he has been working in an atmosphere of friendship and partnership devoid of any tension and therefore, completely false that there is some disquiet regarding his assumption of duties.
On the question of promotion of staff raised in the publication, Prof Mashi pointed out that “from the briefings I received so far, I want to stress that staff have been promoted as at when due over the years. Available records indicate clearly that in 2014 for instance, a total of 205 staff were promoted, while another 332 were equally promoted in 2015. In 2016 alone, another set of 315 members of staff also gained their promotions”.
He also said that the list of eligible candidate for promotion this year (2017) has already been compiled and being processed.
We didn’t eject Turkish Airlines’ passengers –Golden Tulip
The management of Golden Tulip Hotel in Lagos says it never ejected any Turkish Airlines’ passengers brought to lodge in the hotel by the airline early January this year.
Recall that some Lagos-Instanbul bound Turkish Airlines’ passengers were lodged in the hotel as from January 7, to January 15, 2017 following the airline’s inability to carry its passengers due to bad weather in Instanbul, Turkey.
Reacting to the media reports that the hotel had ejected some passengers that were of unruly behavior on January 7, 2017 as well as others that the airline later brought in but failed to foot their bills, Mr. Paul Okojie, Rooms Division Manager of Golden Tulip, said the hotel did not eject its Turkish Airlines’ guest and had no reason to do so.
He explained: “Our hotel has a very solid and one of the most outstanding partnerships since inception with Turkish Airlines. So, we did not have any reason to eject our client’s passengers. Let me state clearly that those reports were absolutely wrong and false, as we took care of the passengers lodging in our hotel providing them with befitting accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also lodged the crew and Turkish Airlines staffers who came regularly to visit.
“The passengers were just 232 and came in batches through Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th January, 2017. This is contrary to reports that the passengers were over 410.
“As a matter of fact our sellable rooms in the hotel including those already being occupied by existing customers are 345. So, where do we get extra rooms to lodge 410 rooms?” he queried.
Okojie reiterated the hotel commitment to an enduring working relationship with Turkish Airlines, which he described as one of airlines highly patronised by Nigerians as a result of its affordability and high focus on safety.