There is no doubt that the political developments in the polity have preoccupied the minds of commentators and pundits. Sensational stories like the 2016 Budget scandal rocking the House of Representatives, unending PDP crises—being fueled by contradictory rulings of learned Justices of Federal High Courts, Niger Delta imbroglio, and other pressing national issues, have succeeded in shifting the focus of the populace. I decided to take a brief break from discussing burning political issues, to take an inventory of key sectors of the Nigerian economy, especially now that the economy is in dire need of resuscitation and revival.
One of the sectors that caught my attention is the aviation industry. The deteriorating state of infrastructural facilities at the nation’s airports, gradual erosion of landmark legacies of previous administration in revamping this all-important sector and the inability of current managers of aviation industry to come out with well-articulated Aviation Master Plan, that would be in line with the change mantra of the President Buhari-led government, prompted me to write this introspective piece.
Not too long ago, there was national uproar on the status of Port Harcourt International Airport as the worst international airport in Nigeria. The usage of make-shift tents, to house passengers arriving from different countries of the world into Nigeria via this airport, brought the insufferable decay in the country’s aviation sector to limelight. If a nation that prides itself as the largest economy in Africa cannot maintain its airports—which serve as number one image maker to visitors, is it the more sophisticated issue of safety in aviation industry that it could guarantee her citizens and visitors?
As a result of policy summersaults, the far-reaching reforms in aviation sector embarked upon by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, which was spearheaded by former Minister of Aviation, Senator Stella Oduah, have been abandoned by the current government. Over one year in power, Nigerians are eagerly waiting to see the aviation roadmap of the APC government rolled out, either to continue where the past regime stopped or map out an entirely new master plan for the industry. I can recall that former President Jonathan hit the ground running immediately he was sworn in after the general election of 2011. He appointed capable hands to head the aviation ministry—in the person of Princess Stella Oduah (now a serving senator). Before her appointment, Aviation Ministry was strictly reserved for stooges of political godfathers, as an avenue to recoup money spent during elections. Our airports were nothing to write home about and the entire sector overtly became a shadow of itself due to long years of neglect by past administrations before the emergence of former President Jonathan. No one saw the urgency of transforming this industry not only into an economic hub that would create job opportunities and wealth for our teeming unemployed graduates, but remodel the industry into a brand that would help lift the image of Nigeria in the eyes of other nations.
Immediately after her call to serve as aviation minister, Princess Stella Oduah sat down with tested aviation consultants with world class expertise and came out with a well-conceptualized Aviation Master Plan, which was subsequently approved in January 2012 by former President Jonathan. Armed with a defined aviation roadmap, Princess Stella Oduah kick-started massive transformation of the nation’s moribund aviation industry to what would have been 21st century aviation industry, if not for her premature exit as aviation minister, after the hullabaloo of purchasing bullet-proof cars for official assignments. Be that as it may, Princess Oduah was able to leave indelible footprints of legacy within the short period she presided over the sector.
For instance, the nation’s airports witnessed facelift via remodelling of 22 Airports across the six geo-political zones. Additional five new international terminals were being constructed across Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Kano International Airports simultaneously. Outside that, different perishable goods terminals were in the pipeline. It is very unfortunate that all these landmark projects cum vision were aborted immediately Senator Oduah resigned her appointment due to political pressures orchestrated by media propaganda surrounding the bullet-proof cars. It is now obvious that the hype about those cars emanated from those who were rattled by her reforms in the industry and needed something to nail her.
Few years down the line, Nigerians have realised that they threw away the baby with the bath water. Aviation reforms project lost its steam with her exit. Long years of neglect which her truncated tenure ended in aviation industry have returned in full blast. Aviation sector reforms became grounded. Senator Oduah’s transformational strides, which inspired International Standard Organization (ISO) to recognize Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) in 2013, as the only certified meteorological agency in West Africa is being diminished by non-sustainability of the aviation road map conceived by her.
Recently, during public hearing of defunct Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Aviation, representatives of the ministry led by Permanent Secretary, Ms Binta Bello, made an emotional statement when she said: “She (Senator Oduah) started a very good job. Every airport was opened up. Well, she’s sitting here. She may tell us where she got the funds. But, records showed she got the money from intervention funds. Since she left, these intervention funds stopped. We depend on budget—capital project, we got an amount of money which can in no way take care of over 150 projects in our airports”. This assertion sums it up—Nigerian Aviation industry lost its vision with the exit of Princess Stella Oduah as minister. Successive ministers of aviation have not found the vision and political will to sustain these reforms, because where there are no clearly spelt out vision and mission, the sector is bound to suffer policy convulsions and infrastructural degeneration. If the Aviation Roadmap initiated by Senator Oduah was sustained, income capability from aeronautical and non-aeronautical businesses from the remodelled airports would have skyrocketed. This would have helped to boost Nigeria’s economy in the face of dwindling prices of oil in the international market, which is grossly affecting the nation’s mono-economy.
Income from remodelled airports was estimated to increase by 400 per cent, if they were completed, as a result of revenues that would have accrued from the non-aeronautical businesses such as bookshops, eateries, and other business structures that could house banks, which were being expanded at each of the airports.