Africa: Govt should leave aviation funding to private sector – Olowo

Sabre aviation Olowo

Dr. Gbenga Olowo is the President of Aviation Roundtable and Safety Initiative, a group of stakeholders. In this interview, he spoke on proposed airport concessioning and other sundry issues in the aviation sector.

What are your expectations from the new head of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu?
We expect that he is not a new fellow. He is familiar with the terrain, with the issues. The vital thing is the will. Our industry is not as complex as we seem to project it. It is not. Captain Nuhu was in the Presidential fleet. From what I read, he has the CV, that is a good decision but the problem with Nigeria is when you grab somebody with a good CV, would you let him perform? On the ground, in the air, whatever, whether it is airspace, air route to our airport, remember we did Kaduna Airport, it was beautiful when Abuja runway was shut down.

What has become of that airport now? Are we appraising from time to time? Are we checking maintenance schedule? These are the areas the new DG will look at. He has to sit down with the Minister, reconcile what he has in mind, I am sure he should have done that anyway because the Minister is a party to his appointment. So they must have done that.

I am challenging the regime because it does not have so much time. 2019 is almost gone, 2020, 2021, those are the two years to go because 2022 is election year. The industry is expecting so much. We are eager to see results.

We have talked for five years in the industry. Lagos is crying for help. We haven’t seen it, we have had a lot of promises that did not come true. What can the DG do with the current Minister? What are the constraints? If funds remain the constraint, what is keeping concessioning, because if you need to concession, then you don’t give yourself headache looking for money. The concessionaires look for fund and there are willing people who will fund it.

The NCAA is supposed to grow the aviation sector. It is in charge of airport, airspace, airlines. So he (the DG) should come with a vision, he should come with deliverable statements, “I want to do this or this within this time-frame”. And if he gets the nod of the Minister, we who are stakeholders and observers are concerned and want to see in another one year, value added.

How has NCAA fared 13 years after it got autonomy to operate?
I can say it is autonomy on paper. The apron of NCAA is still very strongly tied to the ministry of Aviation. Hardly could the Director-General of NCAA do anything without recourse to the minister. Another one that I know is the choice of manpower, how to spend funds on training are highly influenced.

So, if I am to score NCAA, one to four on autonomy, I will score them may be four. NCAA is not autonomous. If I am the DG of NCAA and I have the good understanding of my minister and the President, they must give me capacity to deliver nine over 10, which means I will subject only one to political dictates. I need to spend certain amount on training of pilots, of inspectors, of this or that. An area that does not concern CAA, I want to say Mr. President, “this does not concern CAA, let it go to private sector.” For me our budgets year in, year out with percentage debt instrument, to me we need balanced budget. If it can’t cover even recurrent expenditure, I had to do something as managers of businesses. For me recurrent expenditure in governance is too high. We must find a way to cut it.

If we don’t cut it, we can never move forward. Even this N10bn they promised for Enugu Airport, by the time disbursement comes, they may not be able to disburse when the fund is not available and then the airport would be shut down longer than planned. So before you start a project, make sure the money is in your pocket and the guy that is going to build must have instructions without variation. This is what we have with MMA (Murtala Mohammed Airport) Chinese project.
Because inflation took over, currency devaluation took over and we couldn’t move ahead.

In the 2020 budget, there is huge allocation for these airports planned for concessioning. Why fund them again?
What government is still doing for me is like we can’t fold our arms and do nothing pending the final decision about this concession. But if I am to recommend to government, I will throw away those airports as they are. Investors would buy them as they are so that you can carry these budgets into other more pressing needs- roads, we have not done Lagos-Ibadan which is 100 kilometers in 20 years. If you can solve roads, interior and major roads with these funds and leave aviation to private sector.

In America, how many airlines are parading their airspace because we are as huge as America? Let’s stop comparing ourselves with Ghana, Togo. No country can be compared with Nigeria in Africa in market size. So government must make up its mind critically. What is the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) doing with Arik and Aero in the last four years? If you want to strengthen them, let’s get serious.

They should be in the stock market like yesterday. Sell it as it and let’s have a very robust board to run a powerful airline. I want to understand the role of AMCON. If we want to address airline business, to reciprocate the balance of trade, we must focus on the airlines. The debt you met on ground, put it aside. In serious economies like US, that is charter 11 or 12, go and look for fresh funds and float powerful new airlines, that is what I expect will happen with Arik and Aero under AMCON. Get all their assets and liabilities, put liabilities in one corner, work on the assets and develop a pride of Nigerian airline. Let them have about 25 -30 aircraft and begin to reciprocate with foreign airlines that are here.

It is said that NCAA is not doing enough on economic regulations of airlines and making them more profitable. Do you share that view? Economic regulation is under CAA. That is the powerful tool to solve the issue of multiple designations. DG NCAA has a boss in the Minister, he has to sit the Minister down. “You know when I achieve, you are achieving. So let me achieve for you. So Mr. Minister, take this to the President. This is the way for me to achieve for you.”

By Abdullateef Aliyu

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