BY VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG & DANIEL ETEGHE
*Unions accuse Minister of unethical practices…* Minister dismisses allegations
THERE are strong indications that the relationship between the organized labour in the nation’s aviation industry and the Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, has deteriorated as two unions in the industry are planning a showdown with the Minister over alleged unethical practices and illegalities.
Under the aegis of the National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN, they accused the minister of employing an unnamed four-years-old graduate as a General Manager without prior experience in aviation matters, thereby endangering the security and safety of the Nigerian airspace among others.
At a joint briefing in Lagos, NUATE and ATSSSAN did not only list a plethora of allegations against the Minister, they also claimed the Minister converted almost all his 56 aides to directors and general managers, with her Senior Special Assistant on Legal, now Director of Legal Services in Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN.
They equally accused her of employing 65 unqualified and inexperienced persons from a particular ethnic group into key positions in parastatals under the Ministry of Aviation.
Creation of an extra directorate in FAAN
Speaking on behalf of the two unions, Acting General Secretary of NUATE, Comrade Abdulkareem Motajo, claimed part of the illegalities was the creation of an extra directorate in FAAN without approval from the Office of the Head of Service.
In a 10-point address, Motajo said workers of the agencies who had sat for promotion exams awaiting letter for their new positions had been told to keep on waiting, while outsiders without the perquisite qualifications had been brought in to take over their offices, threatening that any attempt by those he described as invaders, to resume work would be resisted, even if it meant shutting down the sector.
Compiling names of union leaders
He alleged that to attain and sustain the illegalities, the Minister had begun collating names of union leaders at the branch and national levels for possible transfers, dismissals and/ or retrenchment, to weaken the unions and cripple their activities.
NUATE’s Acting General Secretary warned that “all political jobbers who have been directed and or appointed to take over the career positions of our members from the General Managers position downwards should stay clear of our agencies, otherwise we shall be forced to decisively prevent them from doing so.”
According to him, “the current imposition and usurpation of the offices of our members who have been examined, tested, interviewed and found suitably qualified to become management staff and awaiting approval letters and or promotion letters to these higher offices, is a clear manifestation of the disdain of the Minister of Aviation to the career growth and development of these individuals in particular and aviation workers in general, whose commitment to the cause of their respective agencies is to aspire to the highest level of their career.
“The transformation agenda of Mr. President in the aviation industry which was overwhelmingly hailed as a panacea for infrastructural reengineering and repositioning is being thwarted, twisted by the Minister.
“How else can one describe the ongoing remodeling of our airports without following due process; where contractors are unknown; where nobody knows the costs of such gigantic projects; whereby FAAN which is supposed to supervise and grant necessary approvals for work done is nowhere near the projects; where the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, which has no business near the so-called re modeling is involved in paying as much as over N200 as custom duties for items for the remodeling of our airports?”
Employment of a four-year old graduate as GM
“We have also observed that some unqualified elements are being decorated with the toga of General Managers without the prerequisite experience, expertise, skills and qualification as stipulated in the public service rules and or the subsisting Conditions of Service in the various agencies.
“To worsen this, the Minister has approved that a fresh four- year old university graduate, without any sense of Public Service duties, be made a General Manager whereas it takes about 20 to 25 years to attain the prestigious title of a General Manager in this industry.
“To attain and sustain these illegalities, the Minister has begun the process of collating and collecting names of union leaders at the branch and national levels for possible transfers, dismissals and or retrenchment, to weaken the unions and cripple their activities.”
Reacting to the allegations, the minister dismissed the unions’ claims of not being carried along in the development of the sector, saying they were instrumental to the aviation road map she developed for the industry on assumption of office.
The Minister who reacted through her Special Adviser, Media, Mr. Joe Obi, said she met a sector in grossly decadent and near-collapse state, both in terms of infrastructure, facilities, effective and efficient provision of services.
She said to carry everybody along in the transformation of the sector, she initiated a process of stakeholder engagements that culminated in the Aviation Sector Road Map and Master Plan.
“It is pertinent to mention that all the Aviation sector unions were part of this stakeholder engagement process. Their views in support of the repositioning of the sector along these lines are on record. The sudden reversal is curious, incomprehensible and smacks of ulterior motives,” the minister said.
On the automation of revenue collection at the agencies, the minister said it was mischievous on the part of the unions to insinuate that the she single-handedly ordered the exercise.
According to her, “the unions were fully involved in series of meetings on the subject-matter after which they unanimously gave their endorsement to the initiative which, it must be re-emphasised is aimed at plugging the hemorrhaging leakages in the system. The agency heads were also not only involved in the initiative, but also in full support of the automation since it meant more revenue to the coffers of the agencies. It therefore smacks of cheap blackmail to suggest that the agencies were left in the dark on the automation process.”
“Another falsehood is the declaration that a certain $100 million dollars may have been saved through the intervention of the unions with respect to the automation procedure. The current restructuring exercise, which the unions are attempting to discredit, is exactly what the sector needs for a total rebirth and repositioning. All those who have been recently appointed, redeployed and/or promoted have the professional competence, capability and experience to drive the vision and transformation of the aviation industry in Nigeria.”