Dr Harold Demuren
When the ebullient and vociferous Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, was moved on March 12, 2013 and Dr. Joyce Nkemakolam replaced him in acting capacity, many industry observers believed that within the next two weeks another director general would be appointed, considering the importance and sensitivity of the regulatory body.
But by June 12, 2013, it will be exactly three months that NCAA has existed without a substantive director general. And one could recall that shortly after the removal of Demuren, the Presidency nominated Fola Akinkuotu to replace him. It took almost two months before Akinkuotu was screened by the Senate Committee on Aviation and since after the screening, nothing has been heard from the Senate, not even the ratification or otherwise of the President’s nominee.
In Nigeria, such silence can yield to so many interpretations. One, the issue of appointing a director general of NCAA has been mired in politics. Two, the Senate may have other unsavoury plans and it does not consider the effect of not having a substantive director general of NCAA on the aviation industry.
When Akinkuotu was screened it was learnt that he was grilled for almost four hours and he gave impressive response to many of the questions which left no doubt about his competence and knowledge of the industry.
In fact, after the screening many, who attended the event did not have any doubt that he would be confirmed, although there were issues of contention on his response to key questions on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) protocol and on regulation and the conditions for awarding Air Operator Certificate (AOC).
The long wait after the screening and the silence of the Senate have strengthened the suspicion that the superior legislative assembly may have other ideas, but while it vacillates the aviation industry bears the brunt of the air of uncertainty created by the upper house.
Two critical incidents have taken place since Nkemakolam started acting as director general of NCAA. One was the incident of Dana Air when one of its aircraft experienced low battery and the pilot said that he would not fly the aircraft until the battery was replaced. Another one was the controversial private jet claimed to be owned by the Rivers state government. In these two incidents, NCAA did not present itself well, neither did the acting director general act like one fully in charge of the regulatory body. The ministry of aviation had to come in to effectively manage the situation. But what was the response? The minister was accused of interference.
NCAA under a director general in acting capacity is like a man standing with one leg. It cannot take deft decisions and carry the whole industry well as an autonomous entity. Nkemakolam’s actions so far are full of prevarications. He has to resort to the Ministry before taking any decision. He seemed to have forgotten that NCAA is autonomous. One could see him salaaming, grovelling and genuflecting before the minister. And like a typical Nigerian, he may be nursing ideas about staying longer than necessary. NCAA without a substantive director general is like a man climbing a bamboo with oily hands; he may slip and fall. The Senate should ensure that NCAA stands firm to carry out its statutory responsibility of regulating the aviation industry by quickly resolving the issues that delays the appointment of another substantive director general.
The new National Policy on Aviation, the existing Civil Aviation Regulation must be given teeth by the regulatory body. This could be done only if a substantive director general is at the helm of affairs. With the director general in acting capacity, many critical issues must be kept in abeyance, waiting for the appointment of a substantive director general.
When many of those benefitting from the illegal charter operation of private jets kicked against the clauses in the new National Aviation Policy that aimed to deter them from the illicit enterprise, there was no one to stand firm or interpret the new policy, people looked up to the NCAA, but nothing was forthcoming from authority. NCAA as a regulatory body drives the policy of government as well as regulates the airlines but the agency has not been seen doing much of that recently. So its authoritative voice is lacking.
It has been muted variously that the international regulatory agencies like the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that gave Nigeria Category 1 safety status and ICAO may have been miffed by the unfolding events in Nigeria’s air transport sector recently and may reappraise the categorisation of Nigeria in the scheme of things, this could be avoided if NCAA reasserts itself and this it cannot do without a substantive director general.
Many in the industry are not unaware of the jostling by individuals and groups to influence who should become the new director general, even after the Presidency had already nominated a person who has been adjudged to be qualified for the position. Such jostling should not be allowed to colour the criteria for the selection of another director general and the Senate has to realise that the delay in taking this important decision is injuring the aviation industry.
Ardent observers in the industry would have noticed that the sector seemed to be without direction in the last three months. Besides routine activities, no critical decisions are coming from NCAA. On instinctive glimpse, one would think that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is the head of aviation parastatals because that is where things are happening. Remodelled airports are being unveiled; rehabilitation is going on in other airport terminals yet to be unveiled. Last week the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) kicked off its area radar control programme to enhance safety and shorten time of flight for airlines. And it is tempting to forget that NCAA exists.