The altitude to which the aviation sector flew in the last four years under the dexterous guidance and piloting of the Nigerian aviation in a period gone wrong is evidently in stark contrast to what those who fly through airspace in Nigeria were used to before the emergence of the minister and an equally resourceful team chief in the person of Engr. Saleh Dunoma.
It may be said that Dunoma seamlessly flowed with Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika in implementing a phenomenal dream for the aviation sector.
Perhaps the most fundamental of the progress achieved in the aviation sector under Sirika was not only transformational but by all measures transcendental. They were inspirational works radically different from the jumbled mess of the reconstruction and the psychological imperative that success is non-negotiable in order to firmly place Nigeria’s aviation in the top echelon of the world’s aviation configuration.
That philosophy to ride the storm and rough weather to a landing point changed the whole equation of the aviation sector. Once the flight of building an aviation sector that would reposition Nigeria was on and on auto cruise, it was all smooth flying, waiting for a landing of huge gains.
A supportive value of professionalism that became the hallmark of engagement was introduced. In the place of management by emotions was the advent of management through implanted strategy. Where there was confusion, a sense of clarity became the order of the day. All these were supplemented by the re-invigoration of structures, systems and processes that were hitherto abandoned. Also relevant to the sustenance of the procedures was the investment in the people that coordinated the various sub-sectors and strata that made up the aviation hub. It all culminated in a very functional sector that witnessed the scorecard of progress and bounteous harvest in the form of facilities that were spread in the aviation sector across the country.
This monumental progress that happened internally also re-echoed across the aviation sector in international circles with huge ripple effects and an attendant infusion of a high degree of confidence in aviation in Nigeria. What transpired in the past four years has proved not only to be safety-critical, security-critical, passenger-centric but also human capital development focussed. The beauty of the programme is that it touched all areas of the country where an airport is sited; whether South West, South East, South South, North West, North Central, North East is immaterial.
It is imperative and significant to take a statistical excursion into the not too distant past of the aviation sector as it would put into bold relief the tremendous improvement and achievement of Sirika’s emergence in 2015. From that auspicious moment of taking over, the government embarked on a massive and ambitious work of 157 projects in the industry and in the four year of organised and smart work 134 of them were fully completed and in use. This represents more than 85 per cent completion rate. For the remaining 23 projects, 14 per cent are already above 50 per cent completion with just 13 per cent only below 50 per cent completion point.
This is a scorecard that should inspire testimonies of strides measuredly taken to advance the aviation sector as the work cuts across all components of the sector without discrimination and a feeling of favouritism. With the knowledge that the airport system is only as strong as the weakest part, there was a all-inclusive development of aviation agencies across board. As projects are being provided in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), so also is the enhancement going on at Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), while the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) is being enriched as well and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) becoming a beneficiary of the upgrades conceived by a broad-minded administration that is after the satisfaction of all airport users and the common good of all Nigerians.
International and continental acceptance were just around the corner as Nigeria was investing in both human and infrastructures development. The certification of NiMET for conformity with the requirements of ISO 9001 2015 in the provision of meteorological services to the aviation industry and other user- sectors has positioned the agency as the core service provider in the continent not just for the aviation sector but to all industries whose businesses are weather-dependent. The agency’s competency and capabilities have opened doors of collaboration with national and international organisations to improve weather and climate services delivery.
Some of the countries depending on NiMET’s services include Liberia and Sierra Leone, while the agency is currently training meteorological personnel from the Republic of Gambia in Banjul. International recognition has emerged in form of the partnerships with Met agencies of Korea, Finland and India.
This relationship could not have come at a better time, as it will improve the capacity of the agency to ensure that local content becomes central to its work in the future, with a view to developing capacity to design and fabricate automatic weather equipment and meteorological satellite system.
At the policy level, this administration was also in compliance, ensuring that a new Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulation of 2016 was enacted to give legal strength to the activities of the aviation sector.
An outstanding outcome of this administration’s intervention is the sustenance of safety, which has been remarkable and extraordinary. It is on record that, since this administration came on-board, there has not been a commercial airline accident. However, the only accident to have been recorded which is the one that involved Vice President Yemi Osibanjo turned out to be a feather in the cap of the administration. In a few hours after the dust settled over the air mishap, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) vowed that it would publish the preliminary report in days. In honour of their pledge, standing true to their word, in less than two weeks, the AIB issued the preliminary report on the accident and that singular action received applause from all stakeholders, including the Aviation Round Table (ART). It was a commendable achievement that had not gone unnoticed in the aviation sector worldwide. Never has this level of promptness and sensitivity been demonstrated in working to determine the cause of air accidents in Nigeria. That level of tardiness has gone with the wind of yesteryear. The bureau is adequately funded to investigate any major incident or accident and, to indicate the level of confidence in its operation, it currently has a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Sao Tome and Principle.
Another remarkable stride for this administration is the record certification of airports that was finally put in the aviation kitty. The aviation sector in Nigeria has never been so applauded as the world did with the certification of two airports with three others on the verge of being certified. This is the first time the country would attain certification and become International Civil Aviation Organisation-compliant in terms of security and safety. It was a process that began more than a decade ago and has finally put Nigeria ahead of all other countries in Africa, being the only country with two certified airports in the continent.
In this context of certification, Nigeria achieved an effective implementation level of 67.36 per cent during the recent International Civil Aviation Organisation Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme carried out in March 2016. Nigeria showed a rating that is above the global average of 63.54 per cent. The icing on the cake was the 96.5 per cent that Nigeria also recorded in ICAO Universal Security Audit. Eminently aware that accidents could happen even if everything has been done to perfection, he paid a huge premium on the Accident Rescue and Resuscitation Centre, which is another record-breaker, being the first of its kind in the airport.
A comprehensive overhaul was achieved in the aviation sector with Nigeria now on a pedestal that can rightly be adjudged as the highest in Africa. Attaining Level 3 out of four levels guarantees Nigeria a place among the elite of aviation-savvy countries in the world. It has changed the colour of Nigeria from the indicator of red to green on the ICAO dashboard. In line with ICAO and WMO standards, in July 2017, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency acquired ISO9001 2015 certificate, which qualifies it to offer aeronautical meteorological services. The agency also became the first in Africa to be so certified in that category.
The story could not be completely told without the other forms of intervention that relate to human capital development and others that are ancillary to the aviation industry. First is the compassionate move by the administration to offset a colossal part of severance and retirement benefits to 5,966 staff of the former national carrier, Nigeria Airways. It was an event that brought relief to many who had suffered untold hardship and even to the point of death since the liquidation of the airline 16 years ago. That act of abandonment of those who had laboured for the country by successive ministers and governments was not a very good advertisement for the aviation sector. Mercifully, redemption came from this administration. There is a promise that all outstanding issues relating to the severance pay shall be settled once and for all.
What cannot also be forgotten is the strategic negotiation that this administration sought in shoring up the finances of not just ailing airlines but those in operation. The re-introduction of zero import duties on aircraft, engine and introduction of the same scheme for aircraft spare parts is phenomenal. Unknown to many, airlines like Arik Air and Aero Contractors were given a lifeline and a new lease of life and are back in the air because this administration cared. There are numerous workers of these airlines that have been removed from the unemployment market, and who knows how many dependents were saved from depression and whose sense of confidence were restored because of that single move.
Beyond financial aid, the administration also provided the enabling environment for domestic airlines in the country to attain certification in the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). Currently, five Nigerian domestic airlines have certification and others have been designated some of them for international operations. Within the period under review, the framework for a safe and competitive aviation industry provided by this administration resulted in the unprecedented growth of the sector, which translated an average growth of 33 per cent on domestic operations and 13.5 per cent on international operations between January 2017 and June 2018. Like many other records achieved by this administration, it has never happened in Nigeria.
In underscoring the crucial role of energy in the aviation sector and the risk and destruction to lives and properties in an airport that has irregular power supply Sirika ensured that a 10 megawatts (MW) independent power plant for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, was built in Abuja to complement the power needs of the airport as well as other vital ventures that are in operation in the airport. According to him, there were a lot of planning deficiencies identified with the new terminal, which did not take into consideration the status of power in the aviation value chain. The 19 MW plant became the response of a forward-looking administrator who must correct errors that were passed over to him by a regime that is concerned about the holistic development of the aviation sector.
The independent power plant is part of the process of correcting among others the deficiencies inherent in the construction of the airport. Rather than just an energy plant, it is peace of mind for pilots, passengers, ground crews, their relatives and the entire aviation industry worldwide.
The intensity of the work and the extensive nature it took by Sirika to reposition the nation’s aviation sector is worthy of commendation as he may be taking a bow out of the sector. The aphorism that it is fitting to exit the stage when the ovation is louder may not be part of the operational principles in this side of the world, we hope that, peradventure, Sirika wants to leave the scene, he should be recognised by the government as one of the few high performing administrators of this regime. He deserves our appreciation and continued support even if he could be around serving in a consultative capacity in the aviation sector. Like wine, Sirika can only get better in the years ahead.
•Ayela, veteran journalist, is based in Lagos