FAAN Relocation: Much Ado About Nothing

Usman Tafida

Truth; Nigeria is a patchwork of disparate ethnic nationalities but after over 60 years of togetherness as a country, it rankles that rather than fervent nationalism, ethno-religious loyalty still holds more attraction and strong appeal to most Nigerians.

This can be gleaned from how quickly and effortlessly some ethnic jingoists and ethnic groups in Nigeria could retreat behind ethnic and religious cleavages to champion sectional causes; symptomatic of expanding fault lines as could be seen in the ongoing cacophony of voices of dissent and opposition over federal government’s recent decision to relocate the corporate headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and some departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to Lagos,  Nigeria’s capital until 1991.

In saner climes, criticisms or critiques, as the case may be,  of government policies and actions are premised on national interest as opposed to narrow parochial provincial sentiment.

That the whole gamut of the hullabaloo about the return of FAAN to Lagos is colored and inspired by ethnic considerations speaks to the narrow self-interest of the arrowheads.

They care not what is in the best interest of the country provided their parochial interests are served.

If the opponents of the FAAN relocation have any veneer of the interest of the country at heart, they would have approached the issue from the prism of what Nigeria stands to gain or lose following the relocation.

And this is the crux of the matter. When the relocation of FAAN to Lagos is juxtaposed with the financial/ economic implication of the action, it becomes glaring that it was in the economic interest of Nigeria to move it back to Lagos. 

Recall that in the first place, FAAN corporate headquarters was in Lagos before the immediate past Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, in what industry experts and stakeholders have described as an ill-advised move, moved it to Abuja in 2020.

This relocation to Abuja was done notwithstanding that over 90 per cent of the FAAN workforce operated from Lagos. Added to this was the fact that the bulk of major FAAN operations are in Lagos,  the city being Nigeria’s economic hub and by extension, an Aviation hub. 

With most airline operators having their operational bases in Lagos, what sense – economic and service delivery – did it then make that FAAN as an industry regulator was ensconced in Abuja, far removed from the very actors it was meant to regulate?

Now that FAAN is back in Lagos, the bottlenecks and foggy interface between it and Aviation stakeholders are sure to be eliminated in favor of seamless, flowery regulations. This in turn will make for efficient service delivery in the industry.

The relocation of FAAN to Lagos will also put an end to the unnecessary financial drain on the federal government. And this how: Before Sirika moved FAAN to Abuja, the bulk of its staff, over 80 percent, operated from Lagos;  having been redeployed to Abuja without the adequate arrangement for office accommodations,  they operated mainly as out-of-station staff and were being paid hefty out of station or Duty Allowances, DTA. This was because top officials of the Authority flew in and out of Lagos Abuja daily just to have files signed or for official,  crucial meetings.

Aviation Minister, Festus Keyamo (SAN),  in a recent Channels TV interview, revealed that the awkward situation has so far cost the nation half a billion Naira in Air tickets.

It will also interest ethnic crusaders reeling against the relocation to know that top management of FAAN, aviation stakeholders,  unions, and Aviation workers,  tired of the zigzag situation championed the return of FAAN to Lagos. 

Reactionary elements blowing hot air over FAAN’s return to Lagos seem to suffer short memory. Their insipid argument that as a federal capital,  Abuja should house the headquarters of all federal government establishments runs counter to global realities.

They forget that the headquarters of several federal government establishments are not in Abuja.  These include NECO (headquarters in Minna, Niger state), NBTE (headquarters in Kaduna), NDDC (Headquarters in  Port Harcourt, Rivers State),  NRC (headquarters in Lagos) and NIWA (headquarters in Lokoja, Kogi State). 

Now, talking about Abuja as Nigeria’s federal capital vis-a-vis the bedlam about FAAN and CBN relocation to Lagos, the question that should agitate the mind of any Nigerian who does not reason provincially, is why must the rest of Nigeria tolerate the subtle claim of ownership of Abuja by a certain section of the country?

It is my view that those who talk glibly about Abuja as theirs should be sternly reminded that the Federal Capital Territory Decree of 1976 (now Act) does not confer ownership of the territory on any ethnic group or any region in Nigeria as the original inhabitants of the communities that eventually formed the territory were moved out,  resettled and compensated by the federal government. 

That said, it is also imperative to state here that examples abound about countries that built new capitals but retained key government infrastructures in their old capitals for seamless government business.

For example, despite moving to a new capital, Canberra, Australia’s national and international identity remains tied to Sidney, the former capital. This is even as Sidney still hosts a plethora of Australia’s key government establishments namely the Supreme Court, customs headquarters, and Treasury building( an equivalent of our CBN) among others. 

The same is also true of Rio de Janeiro,  Brazil’s former capital. While Brasilia,  the new capital,  is the seat of government,  Rio de Janeiro still hosts many important government establishments including the headquarters of that country’s Securities and Exchange Commission,  also in Rio is SUSEP (Superintendência de Seguros Privados),  a government agency that is responsible for supervision and regulation of insurance companies and insurance practices in Brazil among many other government establishments.

Nearer home, South Africa runs a unique administrative unit with three different cities each housing different arms of government. In other words, South Africa has three national capitals!

For example, the country’s administrative capital is Pretoria, the Legislative capital is Cape Town and the Judicial capital is Bloemfontein.

Given the foregoing, one can safely opine that the hoopla about the return of FAAN to Lagos is an unnecessary distraction by elements with provincial mindsets. Ignoring their nauseating antics is, therefore, the way to go.

Tafida writes from Kaduna.

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