Leadership of labour unions on Tuesday protested against new appointments in aviation agencies. But a faction of the workers accused them of insincerity and pandering to the whims of parochial interests, Chinedu Eze writes
Last Tuesday in Lagos the executives of the National Union of Air transport Employees (NUATE) and the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) protested against the new appointments made by the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, in the aviation agencies.
Recently the minister made appointments at the high cadre levels of the agencies and swapped some top officials across the parastatals, including the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria.
The unions in a press conference criticised the action of the minister and said, “As representatives of the workers in the sector, we view the current actions and utterances of the minister as a direct assault on the sensibilities and collective intelligence of the entire workers in our industry, an avoidable danger signal to the stability, sustenance and economic independence of the industry and a disservice to the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, who has severally enjoined Nigerians to trust him to breathe fresh air into the governance of the nation.”
The acting secretaries of the unions, Abdulkareem Motajo and Olayinka Abioye threatened that the minister must reverse such appointments including the creation of additional directorates in FAAN, which they said, was at variance with the rules and regulations of government. According to them, if the appointments are not reversed, they would prevent the new appointees from taking up their duties.
But the Special Adviser (Media) to the minister, Mr. Joe Obi said that the appointments were part of the restructuring process to transform the sector, adding that at every step of the plan to improve the industry, the workers unions were carried along .
“In order to carry everybody along in the transformation of the sector, the Honourable minister initiated a process of stakeholder engagements that culminated in the Aviation Sector Road Map and Master Plan. It is pertinent to mention that all the aviation sector unions were part of this stakeholder engagement process. Their views in support of the repositioning of the sector along these lines are on record. The sudden reversal is curious, incomprehensible and smacks of ulterior motives,” Obi said in a statement.
However, there are indications that the position of the leadership of the unions has given rise to division among the workers as those who were against the leadership did not attend the conference, insisting that the changes made by the minister were commendable because they were equitably distributed among the six geographical zones.
According to the workers, “unlike in the past when a minister appointed 32 general managers and assistant general managers in FAAN from two states in his zone,” the new appointments represented geographical zones.
One of the ATSSSAN officials, who condemned the action of his colleagues, said that national unions should be nationalistic and should not submit “themselves to the parochial fancies of regional interests.”
He added that even before the conference took place “everybody in Lagos and in other airports knew who sponsored it and the reason why it was sponsored. We should stop allowing our selfish interest and personal gains to affect the work we are doing to promote our welfare.”
He said that they should have read out the appointments instead of calling the Minister names, noting that if they had read out the names of those appointed, everybody would have seen that every part of the country was fully represented.
“We have grown past a situation where if you have an axe to grind with the minister or other top officers in government or in the agencies you come and use the workers to whip up sentiments. I recall some years ago when a lopsided appointments were made, where one minister appointed teachers from his state and the neighbouring state and made them general managers and assistant general managers nobody protested.
“Only few of us complained that such appointment would erode the civil services structure and blunt the growth of core civil servants who started out on level 8 as graduates. There was no press conference to protest the appointments, but now appointments were equitably distributed and they are attacking the minister, which means that they have other motives,” the ATSSAN official said.
A staff member of the FAAN traced the history of similar appointments in the past and said that many past ministers had striven to maintain balancing of appointments at the top echelon of the agencies but noted that this was usually derailed when there was succession of ministers from the same part of the country.
“The truth is that in the past there have always been efforts to recognise federal character and at the top level of the industry attempts have been made to balance it.”
He acknowledged the fact that sometimes ministers “ride roughshod over the policy” to appoint people that would protect their interests.
“At the inception of the democratic dispensation Dr Olusegun Agagu was appointed Aviation Minister and he balanced his appointments by appointing a northerner as the Managing Director (MD)of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, the MD of the Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL) was from South West, while that of FAAN was from the South-South and the DG of NCAA was from the South East.”
But while there was recognition of federal character at the top, this was not always recognised in appointing directors, hence sometimes, certain zones dominate such appointments.
But those who kick against the attack of the minister by the labour leaders and those who protest her appointments agree that civil servants should be allowed to grow and become general managers and therefore should not be appointed from outside.
Some of the factional members of the union also frowned at the blanket condemnation of the minister and said that to criticise the laudable work she is doing because of the appointments smacks of insincerity “and confirms what is already known that the protest was sponsored.”
“In appointing general managers career civil servants should be recognised, but a minister can appoint his directors from anywhere and he can increase the number of his directorates, we don’t care about that but career civil servants should be allowed to grow,” said another FAAN staff member who is also a member of the Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association.
He noted that the general manager is the technical position of the hierarchy of the civil service in aviation so they usually come from the system, “so you cannot appoint him from outside.”
“This industry is peculiar. Somebody that has grown through the ranks knows the industry well. So GMs should be home grown and should come from the industry. We criticise former Ministers, Professor Aborishade and Femi Fani Kayode because they flooded the place with GMs and assistant general managers from outside the industry and they were all from their states. Even this minister they are attacking spread her appointments from across the six geopolitical zones. That is why when they called her ethnocentric they cannot bring out the list of the appointments because they know it is evenly spread.”
He said that Oduah “has not done anything other ministers did not do but “she should know and other ministers after her, should know that you don’t block civil servants from growth. Every civil servant in the system looks forward to being appointed GM, so it is wrong to appoint them from outside.”
Imposition of Workers
The unionist said that it was only because the protest was sponsored that it took a harsh dimension “otherwise we were rejoicing because it is good that she sacked those that were imposed on us, those GMs from outside. She should have sacked all of them. But this Minister is doing very well and many of us are proud of her.”
He also noted that Oduah has been bold enough to tackle so many things in the industry which her predecessors could not do.
According to him “ the list of those who did not even pass medical tests; that did not have the requisite qualification that were brought to the industry had been passed from one minister to another for their sack. But her predecessors could not do that and they were not contributing positively in the industry. Rather they have been contributing in diminishing the value system in the sector.”