Stakeholders and analysts in Nigeria’s aviation say the sector should be upgrade to the next level in the second coming of Sen. Hadi Sirika, OLUSEGUN KOIKI writes.
The re-appointment of Sen. Hadi Sirika, as the substantive Minister of Aviation last week by President Muhammadu Buhari was anticipated by players in the Nigerian aviation industry; yet, it was received with mixed feelings.
To some class of stakeholders in the sector, Sirika’s performance in his first coming was below par, as they argued that he was unable to accomplish his set targets in the first four years of this administration to the industry, despite his unhindered access to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Some of the roadmaps of Sirika in the first stakeholders forum held in Lagos included concessioning of four major airports in the country, starting with Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano airports in the first phase, establishment of a national carrier, creation of aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility and setting up of an aerospace university in the country.
Other secondary programmes Sirika outlined for the industry at the maiden meeting included push for 100 per cent local production of Jet A1 to ease the pains of indigenous airlines, continuation of duty waivers policy on aircraft and imported spare parts for airlines, improvement on the existing aviation safety and security, infrastructural development and the restructuring of the country’s aviation agencies.
But, others argued that Sirika deserved a return to the industry and needed to complete some of his agenda for the country’s aviation industry, stressing that aviation as a highly technical and financial sector, required a knowledgeable personality to drive it.
To this class of analysts, Sirika in the past four years had been able to sustain safety and built on the existing infrastructure and facilities in the industry.
They argued further that Sirika had been able to put some structures in place, while also building on the existing infrastructure in the system.
Some, also attributed the high marks scored by Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) in recent time to Sirika, stressing that his vision led to the appointment of the helmsman in the bureau and other parastatals.
However, players in the sector have urged Sirika to ensure the implementation of government’s developmental policies for the sector with transparency and also warned him against “sycophants in the system especially in the ministry of aviation.
Those spoken to, specifically wanted him to ensure re-establishment of a new national carrier for Nigeria, stressing that the absence of national carrier for the country had led to huge capital flights out of Nigeria stressing that foreign carriers had continued to dominate the nation’s airspace.
The stakeholders are however, divided about the concessioning of some airports in the country.
Comrade Abdulrazaq Saidu, the General Secretary of Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP) in an interview with our correspondent at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos described Sirika as an experienced aviator who meant well for the industry.
Saidu also wanted Sirika to ensure capable hands were put in critical positions, while also inaugurating the boards of directors for the agencies.
Saidu, also supported the call for the birth of a new national carrier for the country, but said the government should not have majority shares in the airline.
He also tasked Sirika on transparency, stressing that most of the roadmaps for the industry did not scale through because of perceived lack of transparency on the side of the government.
He said: “I want to believe that Sirika has learnt his lessons in the first term. He’s known the unions that will tell him the truth. I expect him to take stock of those ones for him to move forward in this government of change as led by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“He should ensure that the boards of directors of these agencies are put in place. This will create room for more transparency and lessen the pressure on him. I am happy that he is a professional and he knows what we are talking about. He should be wary of sycophants who want to tell him what he wants to hear and not what he should know.
“We want him to go ahead with the planned national carrier, but the modus operandi must be looked into. The government should not have a controlling share in whatever they do, rather, investors; individual and core investors should take the lead.”
Saidu, however, kicked against the planned concessioning of some major airports in the country, maintaining that the unions would resist such plans.
“We are saying capital no to the planned concession of our airports. This is simple, we have security challenges in the country and we can’t leave our security in the hands of individuals or private organisations that we don’t trust or know their backgrounds.
“Just recently, somebody beat the security apparatus to gain access to the aircraft at Lagos Airport. If the government concessions the major gateways, it will be a haven for drug peddlers, money launderers and ammunition smugglers.”
He further called on the government to focus much attention on various airstrips across the country, stating that security of some of these airstrips could not be guaranteed especially those without Aviation Security (AVSEC) of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Besides, Grp. John Ojikutu (rtd), the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Centurion Aviation Securities, urged Sirika not to neglect the failed national carrier project for the nation.
Ojikutu insisted that Nigeria required a national carrier to fly its flag, but said the composition and share ownership must include experience foreign technical partners, investors, credible Nigerian investors and the Nigerian public through the Stock Market to give.
However, unlike Saidu, Ojikutu wanted the minister to continue with the airport concession project, but said the entire over 20 airports be concessioned at once to remove the burden of providing annual budgets for their maintenance by the government.
Ojikutu pointed out that the concession should be limited to passenger and cargo terminal building, aircraft aprons/parking at terminal car park toll gates, land office building and any other non-aeronautical infrastructure.
He tasked Sirika to ensure implementation of this within 12 to 18 months of his second coming.
He added: “He should consider a plan to commercialise the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) like the Air Traffic and Navigation Services SOC Limited of South Africa. All other aeronautical infrastructure under FAAN now should be handed over to NAMA; these include the runway, taxiways and associated lighting and approaching lightings.
“Also, he can review the Civil Aviation Act 2006 on the sharing formula for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET), NAMA and AIB from the Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) and Cargo Sales Charge (CSC) with a view to reducing NCAA share from 53 per cent to 40 per cent and increasing the shares of NAMA, NCAT, NIMET and AIB to 35 per cent, 12 per cent, 7 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively.”
Besides, Dr. Gabriel Olowo, the President, Aviation Round Table (ART) advised Sirika to continue with the airport concessioning project as planned.
He charged him to ensure delivery of two or three airport companies of Nigeria with the task of modern terminal buildings with installed high technologies and functional car parks that would make Lagos, Abuja and Kano airports formidable West African Hub by 2025.
He insisted that this was doable and used Ghana, which achieved the fit within four years as a case study.
He further agitated for two or three strong carriers along geo political, geo economic zones for the country.
He added: “The three airlines fleet combined will still not equate Emirates fleet and easily achievable through economic policy or cooperation, collaborations, mergers and acquisitions.”
Mr. OIlumide Ohunayo, Director, Research, Zenith Travels, tasked Sirika to be more “selfless in his service to the industry,” which he said was not pronounced in his first coming as a minister.
He declared that the industry would have preferred a minister with more commercial orientation than Sirika, but said the newly appointed minister could look at the gaps in the system and how to fill them.
He regretted that none of the roadmaps for the sector could be achieved in his first tenure and charged him to ensure the completion of the critical projects for the industry.
“If you look at the projects he had, the national carrier, hangar, none of those projects were achieved in his first term. He has already had a ground start, he should look at the books, the past; he should not say ‘yes, I started these projects, I must accomplish them.’
“He must weigh them. If he serves another four years, that means he will be the longest minister in aviation. You have no reason to have any project that is uncompleted in eight years. So, he should look at options and pick one that is achievable in the projects.”
Mr. Ikechi Uko, travel analyst, wanted attention to be focused on development of airport, infrastructure, saying that this would enable the country to be positioned as the leading aviation destination on the continent.
He added that he needed to make Nigeria the hub of travel to America and South America within his period as a minister in the sector.
By Olusegun Koiki