The federal government recently directed that aviation agencies including the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) should relocate to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and were given 45 days to do so.
Government had explained that this would help the agencies streamline their operations with the Ministry of Aviation and other government agencies located in Abuja and in doing so save them huge amounts of money, considering the envisaged cash crunch that is already hitting the sector due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Government also explained that it would also save the agencies money that rises to millions annually expended on logistics as the heads of agencies attend crucial meeting almost every week at the Ministry of Aviation and had to move to Abuja from Lagos, thus expending money on transport and accommodation, noting that this frequent movement distracts top officials of these agencies from concentrating on their jobs.
This directive was not new. THISDAY gathered that in 2012 there was firm effort for the agencies to relocate to Abuja but after some time levity stepped in with the attendant laissez fair attitude of the top government officials in charge of the agencies then at enforcing the policy. This followed a hiatus of complacency, which forced the decision into oblivion until the recent reawakening.
However, the former Managing Director of FAAN had in 2018 subtly relocated his office to Abuja and the current one stays more in Abuja and also part of the departments in NCAA operate currently from Abuja, but the major challenge of the call for the movement is the humongous cost of moving both personnel and administrative solid and soft assets to the federal capital.
NAMA for example, has solidified its facilities in Lagos to the extent that even if it moves to Abuja, major technical activities would still be happening in Lagos and the agency would still be spending millions of naira annually on transport and accommodation between Lagos and Abuja.
Labour leaders in the aviation industry have severely criticised the decision of the government over the relocation, and had maintained that government took the decision at the wrong time, noting that there is paucity of funds to even pay workers their salary at this time; so it is a wrong time for the agencies to move to Abuja.
The President of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Illitrus Ahmadu said the industry unions would ensure total mobilisation and payment of full allowances to staff in any of the agencies that is relocated out of their station to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in the planned movement of aviation agencies by the Ministry of aviation.
Ahmadu said the priority of any union was to protect the interest of its members, vowing that ATSSSAN would not fail to ensure this at any time.
He, however, said ATSSSAN was not against the relocation order by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, but insisted that the staff welfare should not be taken for granted.
Ahmadu, said the unions would kick against the crippling of activities in Lagos by the government as a result of the relocation order.
“We will not accept a situation where you ask anyone to go without first paying him his relocation allowance and my advice is that you cannot relocate people out of Lagos to Abuja and cripple activities in Lagos. You should provide enough capital resources to continue to drive operations in Lagos while you move those few people to Abuja.”
Ahmadu, however, recalled that it was not the first time such directive would be issued the agencies, saying that some of the agencies’ staff was relocated in 2012, but it was later halted.
“Basically, it is not saying everyone should move from their various formations to Abuja. It is just saying corporate headquarters. In our industry today, the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) spend about three to four days in Abuja. So, it makes no sense. The operational offices can stay wherever they are.
“The challenge is this, I know the agencies were allocated lands some time ago, but most of them are yet to build their corporate headquarters, while others are in the process. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has presence in virtually all the states, but its headquarters is in Washington DC. They oversee the affairs of the industry from there.
“I don’t think the relocation will affect the running of the agencies, but we expect the CEOs to empower the offices at the regions or various formations so that those who are there will be able to perform their duties effectively. We want to see some level of authorities to the people at the regions and formations,” he added.