The Verdict according to Olusegun Adeniyi. Email; email@example.com.
Even when the Civil Aviation Act 2006 vests the power of oversight of the sector in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the fact that we have various laws establishing a multiplicity of agencies with overlap of regulatory powers has always been a problem. Not much attention was, however, paid to the issue until sometime late in 2007 when the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent a damning report which threatened Nigeria’s certification for a Category 1 status. The FAA made it clear that until Nigeria’s enabling law was amended to take care of the anomalies that impeded the powers of the NCAA, they would not approve the final audit of our airports.
In conformity with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Document 8335, the 2006 Act vests on NCAA the powers of oversight for the aviation sector. Unfortunately, other agencies like the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) and Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) are reluctant to subordinate their authorities to that of NCAA, given the provisions of their own laws which are yet to be amended.
Aware that the process of lawmaking would take time, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua sent a letter of undertaking to then President George Bush to the effect that the statutes would be reviewed to empower the NCAA to be the regulator in the industry. That administrative resolution of a serious legal problem saved the day and Nigeria was certified with Category 1 status. But that was only a temporary solution, as efforts to bring the law to conformity with international best practices have stalled in the last three years. So, effectively with the FAAN Act 2003, NAMA Act 1999 and NIMET Act 2003 not yet amended (and everyone playing turf politics), our aviation industry has always been a disaster waiting to happen.
I have followed all the drama since last week Sunday’s crash of DANA Airlines Flight 9-J922 in Lagos and rather regrettably I have not seen any sobriety either on the part of the general public or that of the relevant authorities. In times like this, Nigerians like to tell tales so it is no surprise that virtually everybody in our country “was supposed to be on the DANA flight” but for some “miracles”! Yet with emotions and sentiment, even outright lies, being the order of the day, we are likely to miss this golden opportunity to begin to address the problem of this critical sector.
First, I commiserate with all the people who lost loved ones in the ill-fated aircraft, even as I pray God to grant them the fortitude that is needed for such a time as this. But if only out of respect for the grieving families, I think those telling insensitive tales that they were “aware” that the aircraft was crash-bound should spare us their stories. This is also no time for buck passing or playing to the gallery; and petty politics should not be allowed to becloud the real issues in this tragedy. One fact we must quickly come to terms with is that our aviation industry is in dire straits because many of the domestic operators, if not all of them, are financially challenged. It is then little wonder that they are cutting corners.
I admire the Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah, for the passion she has demonstrated for her assignment and I believe she deserves all the support and encouragement, especially at a time like this. But given the penchant by this administration to set up a committee after every problem (perhaps to delude itself into believing it was doing something) even when reports from such efforts are never implemented, it will be sad if the minister has simply resorted to the same trick with the John Obakpolor committee. What is needed today is a fundamental overhaul of the aviation sector to bring it into conformity with international best practices.
Over the years, three factors have been identified as the bane of our aviation sector. The first is economic, the second infrastructural and the third, technical. For me, the most important of them is the economic factor, because it is the leg on which the others stand. And it is the aspect most countries pay serious attention to, the reason why the sector thrives on protectionism as the Fly American Act vividly illustrates. Yet the uncontrolled market access has made the Nigerian route the most lucrative for all foreign airlines, but very difficult for domestic operators. For instance, under the guise of wet lease contract, a proliferation of non-Nigerian registered aircraft operating charter services within the country is encroaching on the legitimate market for domestic operators. Unlike in other countries where participation of foreign registered aircraft in domestic operations is restricted by Cabotage laws, it is not so here. That is how we had a DANA Airlines in the first place!
With little or no regulation to protect them from a hostile business environment, when local operators are financially challenged, safety is the first thing to be compromised. It is therefore little surprise that many of the domestic operators run their airlines like Kabukabu, just to break even. Whether they admit it or not, there is a clear lack of professionalism by many of the domestic operators that is not helped by the absence of effective regulation.
Yet we have an aviation industry with huge potentials. While I am aware that there is a clear distinction between domestic and international operations, there are lessons to learn from both. Indeed, to underscore how deep our aviation industry is, I like to end this first part of my intervention with some statistics of how much some of the international airlines plying Nigerian routes made from ticket sales between 2007 and 2009.
In 2007, Air France sold tickets worth N7,961,524,900; a year later, it was N8,986,212,297 and in 2009, they made N10,859,450,927 which means that the revenues kept increasing every year. Ditto British Airways which sold tickets worth N26,938,016,979 in 2007; N30,581,805,080 in 2008 while the figure jumped to N31,538,141,510 in 2009. Even Ethiopian Airlines sold tickets worth N6,227,302,630 in 2007; N6,664,616,460 in 2008 and the figure also increased to N6,756,378,231 in 2009. Emirates and Delta airlines have also been making a kill. In 2007, Emirate sold tickets worth N13,550,151,110, a year later the figure jumped to N15,084,214,110 and by 2009, it was N21,522,532,269. On its own, Delta Airlines sold tickets worth N836,615,210 in 2007, N6,134,731,208 in 2008 and in 2009, N7,001,304,508.
The others: KLM sold tickets worth N9,447,947,737 in 2007, N9,261,354,045 in 2008 and N10,507,299,275 in 2009. In 2007, Lufthansa sold N6,644,365,358 worth of tickets, in 2008, N7,561,417,320 and in 2009, N10,844,127,774. Qatar Airways in 2007 sold N2,268,148,490, in 2008, N5,825,612,980 and in 2009, N6,799,302,758. South African Airlines in 2007 sold N3,871,372,760 worth of tickets, in 2008, N4,229,358,680 and in 2009, N6,799,302,758. In 2007, Egypt Air sold tickets worth N2,189,083,380, in 2008, it was N3,055,580,440 and in 2009, N4,831,799,157. Virgin Atlantic in 2007 sold NN9,665,149,900 worth of tickets; N12,822,238,140 in 2008 and N11,832,010,763 in 2009. Kenya Airlines sold N2,785,801,510 in 2007, N3,157,306,900 in 2008 and N2,807,340,026 in 2009.
There are a few other airlines, like Iberia, Turkish Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Saudi Air, China Southern airlines, North America airlines etc that for lack of space I am leaving out but their records also reveal the same pattern of increase in patronage. Because of the current obsession with DANA, as it often happens after every crash, I think it would be more helpful for our authorities to take a global view of the industry. Even if we believe all the tales that are being bandied about the operational mismanagement and careless disposition to issues of safety at DANA, they are a reflection of what obtains throughout the entire sector. That some of the stories we hear could even be contemplated in such a critical sector like aviation reveals a total absence of regulation, a problem we must begin to address in a more fundamental way.
..To be concluded next week
I really do envy my children with the number of elderly women who have over the years adopted them as their own and have always showered on them love and affection. Now, I have lost count of the number of their Grandmas, but they have their way of differentiating them: ‘Grandma Osogbo’; ‘Grandma Ilorin’; ‘Grandma Ibadan’; ‘Grandma NAFDAC’ (Prof Dora Akunyili, that is) et al.
Last Saturday, another of their beloved grandmothers, Mrs Cecilia Nwanyiakadiya Umeh-Ujubuona, (biological mother of Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili, Mrs Nkiru Ukaibe and my brothers, Chidi and Onyekachi), marked her 70th birthday in Abuja. It was a glorious outing for a wonderful woman who has for many years actually played the role of a mother for many of us. As “Pastor” Ali Baba prophesied at the ceremony, we look forward to our dear mummy marking her 80th and 90th birthday in this land of the living. And talking about birthday, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was also 70 yesterday while Vanguard publisher and the ultimate role model for many of us in this profession, Mr. Sam Amuka Pemu, (Uncle Sam) clocked 77. My congratulations.
The Mpu Resolution
I was in Enugu State last week Thursday and Friday for the burial of Igwe Mathias Ekweremadu, the father of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, a very good man. Not only did he pull a crowd of the high and the mighty to his village, it was also as if the National Assembly moved its sitting to Mpu. But there was a mild drama in church last Friday. In the course of the thanksgiving, a talking drum-wielding artiste was asked to lead the session and he came with what Senator Nkechi Nwogu described as an “Afenifere agenda” for which she held me responsible. From one Yoruba song to another, the young man led the choruses to the apparent displeasure of many people in church. When he couldn’t take it any longer, my friend, Lastborn Onwukaike, called one of the officiating priests to protest: “You people are insulting my culture. How can I be in a church in Igbo land and be treated only to Yoruba songs?”
As the priest replied that the man was invited by the Deputy Senate president, Senator Chris Anyanwu (who was seated behind me) whispered: “Segun, when next I come to your village, what songs would I then be listening to?” The more the guy sang in Yoruba, the more the anger around me and I couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could Senator Helen Esuene. But that was not the real story of the day.
While many people testified to the impeccable character of the late Igwe Ekweremadu, who left behind 24 children (12 male and 12 female, everyone a university graduate), there was also an admonition that with the state of the economy, it would not be advisable to emulate him in that respect. In his sermon, Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Ola Makinde, said he would not recommend that many children for anyone in today’s Nigeria. Senate President David Mark who himself has a bit of experience in that department said the late Igwe’s record would be difficult to match. The First Lady, Dame (Mrs) Patience Jonathan, however, laid down the law: To avoid having too many children, men, according to her, should not marry many wives. The ‘vote’ was unanimously carried!