As Uncertainty Trails the Non-appointment of NAMA MD

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Almost six months after the head of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency was removed, the federal government is yet to appoint a substantive successor. Chinedu Eze examines how this has affected service delivery and created an air of uncertainty in the agency

In February this year, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) was removed alongside some top officials over allegation of fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Since then, the agency is being supervised by Mr. Emma Anasi in an acting capacity.

The fraud allegation came as a shook to the workers of the agency but many of them who spoke to THISDAY recently, reasoned that the agency should move on since the culprits of the obnoxious act were taken out

It appears the ghost of the last management still haunts the agency because the system has not been redefined by new management and a new Managing Director who would set a new direction for the airspace service provider.

Those who are heading the various departments in NAMA are doing so in active capacity. The agency is being managed by an acting Managing Director. Others departments- Operations, Finance and ICT are also being supervised by acting directors and General Manager respectively. It is feared that because these strategic positions are being supervised by those in acting capacity, critical decisions that would spur the agency forward may not be taken. There is fear and uncertainty to the extent that some decisions urgently needed to make necessary changes in the daily running of the agency are sometimes kept in abeyance.

Investigations have revealed that the management is always in a dilemma about taking some decisions or actions because of the uncertainty about how government would react through the Ministry of Transportation.

Sources familiar with activities at the agency told THISDAY that Anasi is doing everything possible to ensure that the agency continues to deliver its mandate, which is ensuring safe operation of flights. But there is stalemate in the running of the agency because “there is continuous hope that government will appoint a new Managing Director soon. This expectation has gone on and on and some issues are kept for the coming Managing Director to tackle. Some projects are being delayed because there is no substantive Managing Director to take critical decisions.

Lack of Will
A senior official of the agency said that many people who are in acting capacity are scheming everyday to be confirmed and that the present management “lacks the will to initiate new projects”.

“Things are at a standstill in NAMA. But the air traffic control people are doing their things; the engineers are doing their things. But an agency such as NAMA is dynamic. What has kept it ahead of other agencies is because of its dynamism and ability to keep abreast of all development concerning airspace management. You cannot find us wanting, but since the beginning of this year that progress has been stalled.

“We are not getting much from either the Minister of Transportation or from the Minister of State for Aviation. In fact, there is conflict there. Who is in charge of the aviation industry? We don’t know. I have never seen this industry so laid back as what we are experiencing this time and it seems that NAMA is the butt of this uncertainty,” a source told THISDAY.

But despite the seeming deadlock, the workers said they are receiving their salaries and allowances as at when due and everything seems to be running as initially programmed.
“No new ideas and training have been stalled; except the ones initially arranged before now and they are very, very few. All we are demanding is that they should put NAMA back on track.

“Since the removal of the former Managing Director things have been stagnant because there is no new MD. In January some groups from our department went for training at the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Zaria (NCAT) and they returned in April. The next batch was supposed to leave in May but it was not signed, so no approval; they said there is no substantive Managing Director. That is the way everything is going now.

“We have been agitating for improved condition of service but anytime the matter is brought up now they will say that we don’t have Managing Director to take decision on that. When are they going to appoint one? We don’t know. The former MD was the one that signed improved welfare package for the Air Traffic Controllers before he was removed; there is agitation that all the staff in NAMA should have improved service but the quest has become a stillborn till further notice,” a source in the agency told THISDAY.

Degeneration

There are fears that if the uncertainty continues, things would start degenerating in NAMA and this might affect air safety. Some of the workers who spoke to THISDAY said that what is happening now is that what was laid out before now is what is subsisting but such situation is not meant to last for long “because there will be time an important decision is expected to be taken urgently and when you start wasting time, debating what to do things will degenerate.”

“We seem to coax government to do the right things now because we are yet to have emergency. When emergency happens how are you going to take immediately actions to rectify a bad situation when you don’t have the powers as the Managing Director, which is bestowed by the Act establishing NAMA. People should know the importance and the critical nature of NAMA and should not toy with its leadership. We also expect the Minister to know that he is responsible to whatever is happening in the agency and in the industry because he remains a representative of the federal government,” a senior agency official told THISDAY.

THISDAY also learnt that since the fraud allegation earlier this year that resulted in the removal of top officials of the agency, those who are in charge of finances are being very careful and are not ready to take decisive actions on payment. Besides, the two important figures there are also on acting capacity.

“So besides the payment of salaries and allowances, money is not made available to carry some other activities in the agency because they are afraid to take actions that may indict them tomorrow but if we have a substantive leader, he will take those important decisions and endorse whatever actions that needed to be taken,” a worker said.

This was buttressed by a former manager in the agency. He told THISDAY that all eyes are on NAMA since the fraud allegation and the workers are “being over careful” not to make mistakes and in doing so abdicate some of their responsibilities.

“It is the responsibility of government to appoint a new Managing Director and the agency needs one urgently now. It appears a lot of eyes are on NAMA. It is the Managing Director that has the right to make approval. The acting Managing Director does not have such rights so what has been happening is that he gets his approvals from the Ministry; in fact, it is the Ministry that is running the place now. Most often the acting MD is on phone seeking approvals from the permanent secretary of the Ministry. We pray they should give them a new MD,” he said.

Projects stalled

NAMA had a few years ago embarked on the automation of Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) and the project is nearing completion. The agency has not embarked on any project since February the substantive Managing Director was removed and some of the on-going projects have been stopped due to lack of funds. But recently Anasi, the acting Managing Director promised speedy completion of the AIS automation project in view of the fact that AIS is the “live-wire of any air navigation system, as it ensures the safety, efficiency and regularity of air navigation through the exchange of accurate, timely and reliable information to airspace users.”

THISDAY learnt that the agency and other agencies in the industry are awaiting the approval of their budgets by the National Assembly. With that approval the money could be made available for the agency to continue with the on-going projects.

“But then there maybe another hitch. They may say that the money may not be spent until a new Managing Director is appointed. You see how this is stalling activities in the agency. Or they may resort to the Ministry to get approval. I think the Ministry is enjoying what is going on; that is why the Minister is not in a hurry to appoint substantive top officials to man the agency,” a NAMA source said.

NAMA, prior to now carried out safety critical projects to enhance safety in Nigeria’s airspace. The projects recently completed include the Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications, which enhances seamless communication and has eliminated the notorious black spots in Nigeria’s airspace. That is part of the airspace where the pilot would lose voice communication between him and the controller.

This has also boosted communication in the nation’s Flight Information Region (FIR) Kano and also in Lagos. Through Kano FIR, which is the main communication outlet to the world, pilots overflying Nigeria’s airspace to other parts of the world communicate with controllers and NAMA earns huge revenue from this.

The agency has also completed e-clearance project, which is a system that enables NAMA to identify all incoming flights and record them in real time using their tail numbers as well as recording the time they depart the Nigerian airspace. Before the introduction of e-clearance, flight clearance were processed manually, a process that has not been very effective.

There are also other projects including solar power as secondary power source to sustain electricity for the safety critical equipment of the agency.

However, since February this year, there has been a lull in the activities at NAMA owing to lack of substantive leadership. Despite the hard work being put in by Mr. Anasi, his efforts may never be appreciated because he is constrained by administrative bottlenecks since he functions in acting capacity.