Some weeks back, The Murtala Muhammed Airport 2 (MMA2) was shut down by the aviation unions over their dispute with the operators of the terminal. Airlines, banks, shop owners and services providers at the terminal said they lost over N1.5billion for what they described as ‘insensitive picketing’ of the terminal.

Unfortunately, our dear unions do not understand the difference between picketing and shutting down. While you have a right to picket, you do not have the right to shut down the operations of key player such as MMA2. This is a terminal that plays an important role in the economy of our nation and these unions still decided to shut it down irrespective of a subsisting court injunction. How lawless can we be as a nation?  In a lawful country those union leaders should be in jail by now.

In other climes, you would expect the main regulator of the sector which is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to have intervened before the matter got to the extent of picketing. It still baffles me how the NCAA and FAAN looked the other way, while their staff who are known members of these unions shut down a critical service industry. The NCAA watches everything in limbo and acts like it doesn’t exist. When the chief regulator looks the other way when it should stamp its authority, then we are in for more shockers!

Now this is the main problem with concessions in Nigeria. If a major investor in the mould and pedigree of Dr Wale Babalakin can be subjected to such humiliation, how do we expect to get more local investors, let alone foreign investors? We are yet to recover from a failed Nigeria Air project which we all know never got a single investor and the NCAA and FAAN are still adopting a ‘siddon look’ style?

From the look of the whole MMA2 and union brouhaha, it is obvious the NCAA, FAAN and the Police were all in support of the impunity exhibited by the unions. How else can one describe the inability of the police to disperse an unlawful gathering / trespass at MMA2 even with a court injunction? And they were all happy seeing outlets at the terminal shut, passengers missing important business or professional engagements, banks shut and airlines losing millions and threatening to downsize?  Are we not tired of the level of job losses under the present administration? It was such a dark day for Nigeria, concessions and the rule of law!

Recently, an aircraft belonging to Overland Airline caught fire while undergoing maintenance at its hanger at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT). The video of how the aircraft burnt beyond repair went viral and it exposed the inefficiency of FAAN and NCAA.  It was a shameful sight. I felt like crying for Nigeria and the aviation industry while watching the video and I asked: what if there were passengers onboard? We would have lost precious lives as a result of the ineptitude of these agencies. Voices in the background of the video confirmed that, apart from the fact that the fire fighters got to the hanger late, they ran out of water. Shame! And this is supposed to be a Category 1 Airport recently certified by NCAA!

I am inclined to request what emergency management programme the NCAA put in place to manage such emergency situations? When was the last audit inspection carried out on the hanger? Was this part of the audit carried out by NCAA? How did the hanger get an AMO certificate? FAAN is complicit in all of these as performance of the airport fire service fell short of a CAT one standard.

Our CAT one regulators NCAA and FAAN need to tell us when last they trained and bought equipment for their emergency services officers and staff. A supposed category one airport as large as what we have should have a minimum of four fire service teams; one each at MM2, GAT, MMIA and cargo to meet the ICAO three minutes recommended standards to put out a fire incident.

A member of the Aviation Round Table, John Ojukutu, while querying the last time the NCAA conducted an inspection or audit on the maintenance hanger also asked, ‘’What is the category of the MMA fire service that could not put the fire out on a passenger aircraft of less than 40-seater? What would have happened if it were a B777 or even a B737? I heard people in the background of the video screaming no water, no water! But where were the water hydrants in the NCAA certified airport? Does the hanger where the incident happened not have emergency management programme for such incident? Is the emergency management programme for the hanger not an NCAA’s audit or inspection checklist? If the answers to these questions are negative, then it’s a big shame for a regulatory agency that prides itself with the FAA CAT 1.’’ He advised the NCAA to review its checklist for hanger inspection and audit.

Unfortunately, both the Minister of State for Aviation Hadi Sirika and the NCAA DG Muhtar Usman have refused to issue a statement on both the MMA2 and Overland aircraft fire incidents. I gathered from reliable sources that both were outside the country lounging somewhere in Canada while the country or their sector was on fire. These are the kind of people we have at the helm of affairs of a critical sector such as aviation and nobody seems to be auditing their affairs.

Emeka Gbulie, Abuja