Oche Victor Elias
AS the curtain fell on President Mohammadu Buhari’s first term, the jury was already out on the score card of his first term ministers – that 90 per cent of them performed far below expectation and hence must not return to the federal Cabinet. There were a few exceptions though, foremost and prominent amongst whom was former Minister of State, Aviation Dist. Senator Hadi Sirika.
As an aviator, a professional of the highest caliber, many knew Sirika was on a very familiar turf and thus was expected to excel on the job. He however performed far above expectation to the point that as he said his goodbyes to staff of the Ministry aviation stakeholders and the traveling public, there was only one prayer at everyone’s lips – that if President Buhari returns for a second term he (Sirika) should not only be returned to the cabinet but straight back to the Aviation sector to complete the business which he started so excellently in the Buhari first term.
Well, the old saying goes that the voices of men are the wishes of God, and that what has been approved on earth similarly receives express blessings and approval from Heaven; so it came to pass that Sirika was not only returned to the cabinet but more so deployed to Aviation sector with an elevation to the enviable position of substantive Minister.
Everyone, especially staff of the Ministry got their wishes. It was therefore no surprise when on his first day in office last week, staff of the Ministry led by various Union Leaders in the sector trooped out in droves to welcome the Minister with great pomp and pageantry. This was clearly unprecedented in the history of the aviation ministry!
Now the ball is firmly in Sirika’s court, and in an unsurprising manner he has hit the ground running. He has said he will resume from whence he stopped last time round, keep faith with the Aviation Roadmap and Masterplan, whose overall objective is passenger safety and comfort; as well as a robust sector that contributes a large chunk to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Top on the Minister’s agenda is airport concessioning and certifications. Sirika’s dream is to make the nation’s airports comparable to some of the best in the world not only in terms of infrastructure, aesthetics and passenger facilitation, but also passenger satisfaction. To achieve these, Sirika acknowledges the prime importance of tapping into the huge financial and technical expertise of the private sector, hence the need for concessioning. Luckily for the Minister, the usual resistance and fears by workers in the sector to any concessioning arrangement has been adequately allayed and the workers are firmly on board. The buy-in by the workers was not achieved by happenstance but through the savvy and persuasive power of the Minister who assured the workers that their interest and welfare was a core component of all concessioning agreements.
Bothered by the huge foreign exchange expended by Nigerian airlines abroad for the mandatory maintenance and checks, Sirika has promised to redouble efforts to create maintenance hubs across the country. This has been the vision of many past Aviation Ministers with little success, but Sirika has pledged to halt the voodoo by making Nigeria a maintenance hub within the sub-region. And given his energy, passion and determination, no one can bet against the Minister to achieve the feat in the next four years.
With the maintenance hubs comes the need to also create passenger hubs in the country to cater to the needs of the sub-region. Like many Nigerians, Sirika is understandably embarrassed and outraged that some smaller countries within the sub-region are today considered passenger hubs, hence has promised to spare no efforts in reversing the trend and repositioning Nigeria to take her rightful place as the passenger hub within the sub-region. Work in this regard had reached an advanced stage during his first coming, so the Minister has promised to tie the knots in the shortest possible time.
And yes, the National Carrier! An albatross on the neck of every successive Minister? Probably. This is a project the Minister pursued with a lot of gusto in his first coming, and has vowed on his honour to see it through this time round. The fighter that he is, Sirika knows much of his legacy in the sector will hinge considerably on his success or otherwise of bequeathing to Nigerians a befitting National Carrier. The hiccups experienced last time, rather than dampen his enthusiasm, have emboldened and energized the Minister to conquer this monster. Majority of Nigerians are with him on this, and they are hoping and praying that he, finally emerges as the man who slayed the ‘beast’. We can’t possibly bet against him on this score too.
There is certainly a lot on the Minister’s plate, and not the least is the completion of the new terminals in Lagos and Kano. As the first term wound down, one of Sirika’s major concerns was the completion of the Kano and Abuja terminals by whoever will emerge as Aviation Minister after May 29th, 2019. Well, he is twice lucky to be the man to see the dream through. Speaking recently, Sirika said completion of the two projects was top on his mind and would give a leg and a hand, literally to get them commissioned and put to use as soon as possible. With that smile last time, no one can begrudge him – he wants to smile wider upon completion of Kano and Lagos terminals.
Talking of terminals also brings the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu to sharp focus. Recently, FAAN announced that the airport would soon be closed for some maintenance and renovation works to be carried out on the runway. Conscious of the sensitive nature of the planned closure and the effect on the economic life of the South East region, Sirika is not leaving anything to chance. He desires a seamless process, and therefore craves the buy-in of the people of the region. To this end, the Minister has scheduled a meeting (Governors’ Forum) with the governors and stakeholders from the zone where modalities, with clear and precise framework and timelines will be agreed upon for the renovation.
We all remember, quite clearly the apprehension that greeted the closure of the Abuja airport in 2018. Then the Minister gave a specific timeline for the completion of the rehabilitation of the runway, with a lot of skepticism. Against the odds and expectations, he delivered on the deadline day. He wants to do same for the Enugu repairs and wants to bring every stakeholder on board.
What will all the beautiful infrastructure achieve without the building of the minds and capacity of the workforce, as well as their welfare/wellbeing? Well, Sirika has all this covered. On his first day on the job last week, he reiterated his desire and determination to make the welfare and wellbeing the centerpiece of his policies as was the case in his first term. To achieve this, he said training and re-training of staff will receive renewed attention, while staff entitlements would always receive expedited attention. “Everyone is covered”, he assured. To be sure, the people wanted him back. Sirika too, wanted to be back to complete his assignment in the ministry. Now he is back, and so far he is hitting all the right notes. And we can’t bet against him exceeding all our expectations, once again.
Oche writes from Abuja