By Olu Ayela
The altitude to which the aviation sector flew in the last four years under the guidance and piloting of the Nigerian aviation is like a period gone wrong. This is evidently in stark contrast to what those who fly through airspace in Nigeria were used to before the emergence of the minister and an equally resourceful team, chief of whom is Engr.Saleh Dunoma. It may be said that Dunoma was of the time in comparison, Dunoma seamlessly flowed with Sirika in implementing a phenomenal dream for the aviation sector.
Perhaps the most fundamental of the progress achieved in the aviation sector under the minister of State, Aviation, Capt. Hadi Sirika were not only transformational they were by all measures transcendental. They were inspirational works that was radically different from the jumbled mess of the
reconstruction and the psychological imperative that success is non-negotiable in order to firmly place Nigeria aviation in the top echelon of the world’s aviation configuration. That philosophy to ride the storm and rough weather to a landing point changed the whole equation of the aviation sector. Once the flight of building an aviation sector that would reposition Nigeria was on and on auto cruise, it was all smooth ride waiting for a landing of huge gains.
Supportive value of professionalism
A supportive value of professionalism that became the hallmark of engagement was introduced. In the place of management by emotions was the advent of management through implanted strategy. Where there was confusion, a sense of clarity became the order of the day. All these were supplemented by the re-invigoration of structures, systems and processes that were hitherto abandoned. Also relevant to the sustenance of the procedures is the investment in the people that coordinated the various sub-sectors and strata that made up the aviation hub. It all culminated in a very functional sector that witnessed the scorecard of progress and bounteous harvest in the form of facilities that were spread in the aviation sector across the country.
This monumental progress that happened internally also re-echoed across the aviation sector in international circles with huge rippling effects and an attendant infusion of a high degree of confidence in the aviation in Nigeria. What transpired in the past four years has proved not only to be safety-critical, security-critical, passenger-centric but human capital development focussed. The beauty of the programme is that it touched all areas of the country where an airport is cited; whether South West, South East, South South, North West, North Central, North East is immaterial.
It is imperative and significant to take a statistical excursion into the not too distant past of the aviation sector as it will put into bold relief the tremendous improvement and achievement of Alhaji Sirika’s emergence in 2015. From that auspicious moment of taking over, the government embarked on a massive and an ambitious work of One Hundred and Fifty-Seven projects in the industry and in the four year of organized and smart work One Hundred and Thirty-Four of them were fully completed and in use. This represents more than Eighty-Five percent completion rate. For the remaining Twenty-Three projects, Fourteen percent are already above Fifty per cent completion with just Thirteen per cent only below Fifty percent completion point.
This is a scorecard that should inspire testimonies of stride measuredly taken to advance the aviation sector as the work cuts across all components of the sector without discrimination and a feeling of favouritism. With the knowledge that the airport system is only as strong as the weakest part, there was an all-inclusive development of aviation agencies across board. As projects are being provided in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria ( FAAN), so also is the enhancement going on at Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), while the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) is being enriched as well and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency( NiMET) becoming a beneficiary of the upgrades conceived by a broad-minded administration that is after the satisfaction of all airport users and the common good of all Nigerians.
International and continental acceptance was just around the corner as Nigeria was investing in both human and infrastructures development. The certification of NIMET for conformity with the requirements of ISO 9001 2015 in the provision of meteorological services to the aviation industry and other user- sectors has positioned the agency as the core service provider in the continent not just for the aviation sector but to all industries whose businesses are weather dependent. The agency competency and capabilities have opened doors of collaboration with national and international organisations to improve weather and climate services delivery.
Training meteorological personnel
Some of the countries depending on NIMET services include Liberia and Sierra Leone while the Agency is currently training meteorological personnel from the Republic of Gambia in Banjul. International recognition has emerged in form of the partnerships with Met Agencies of Korea, Finland and India.
This relationship could not have come at a better time as it will improve the capacity of the agency to ensure that local content becomes central to its work in the future with a view to developing our capacity to design and fabricate automatic weather equipment and meteorological satellite system. At the policy level, this administration was also in compliance, ensuring that a new Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulation of 2016 was enacted to give legal strength to the activities of the aviation sector.
An outstanding outcome of this wholesome of this administration’s intervention is the sustenance of safety, which has been remarkable and extraordinary. It is on record that since this administration came on-board, there has not been a commercial airlines accident. However, the only accident to have been recorded which is the one that involved Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo turned out to be a feather in the cap of the administration. In a few hours after the dust has settled over the air mishap, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) vowed that it would publish the preliminary report in few days. In honour of their pledge standing true to their word, in less than two weeks, AIB issued the preliminary report on the accident and this singular action received applauds from all stakeholders including Aviation Round Table (ART). It was a commendable achievement that had not gone unnoticed in the aviation sector worldwide. Never has this level of promptness and sensitivity been demonstrated in working to determine the cause of air accidents in Nigeria. That level of tardiness has gone with the wind of yesteryears. The bureau is adequately funded to investigate any major incident or accident and to indicate the level of confidence in its operation, it currently has Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Sao Tome and Principle.
Another remarkable stride for this administration is the record certification of airports that was finally put in the aviation kitty. The aviation sector in Nigeria has never been so applauded as the world did with the certification of two airports with three others on the verge of being certified. This is the first time in the history of the country to attain certification and become International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) compliant standards in terms of security and safety. It was a process which began more than a decade ago and has finally put Nigeria ahead of all other countries in Africa being the only country with two certified airports in the continent.
Effective implementation level
In this context of certification, Nigeria achieved an effective implementation level of 67.36 per cent during the recent International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme carried out in March 2016. Nigeria showed a rating that is above the global average of 63.54 per cent. The icing on the cake is the 96.5 per cent that Nigeria also recorded in ICAO Universal Security Audit. Eminently aware that accidents could happen even if everything has been done to perfection, he paid a huge premium on the Accident Rescue and Resuscitation Centre which is another record breaker, being the first of its kind in the airport.
A comprehensive overhaul was achieved in the aviation sector with Nigeria now on a pedestal that can rightly be adjudged as the highest in the continent. Attaining Level 3 out of 4 levels guarantees Nigeria a place among the elite of aviation savvy countries in the world. It has changed the colour of Nigeria from the indicator of red to green on the ICAO dashboard. In line with ICAO and WMO standards, in July 2017, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency acquired ISO9001 2015 certificate, which qualifies it to offer aeronautical meteorological services. The agency also became the first in Africa to be so certified in that category.
The story could not be completely told without the other forms of intervention that relates to human capital development and others that are ancillary to the aviation industry. First is the compassionate move by the administration to offset a colossal part of severance and retirement benefits to 5,966 staff of the former national carrier, Nigeria Airways. It was an event that brought relief to many who had suffered untold hardship and even to the point of death since the liquidation of the airline sixteen years ago. That act of abandonment of those who had laboured for the country by successive ministers and governments was not a very good advertisement for the aviation sector. Mercifully, redemption came from this administration. There is a promise that all outstanding relating to the severance pay shall be settled once and for all.
What cannot also be forgotten is the strategic negotiation that this administration sought in shoring up the finances of not just ailing airlines but those in operation. The re-introduction of zero import duties on aircraft, engine and introduction of the same scheme for aircraft spare parts is phenomenal. Unknown to many, airlines like Arik Air and Aero Contractors were given a lifeline and a new lease of life and back in the air because this administration cared. There are numerous workers of these airlines that have been removed from the unemployment market and who knows how many dependents were saved from depression and whose sense of confidence was restored because of that single move?
Beyond financial aids, the administration also provided the enabling environment for domestic airlines in the country to attain certification in the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). Currently, five Nigerian domestic airlines have Certification and others have been designated some of them for international operations. Within the period under review, the framework for a safe and competitive aviation industry provided by this administration resulted in the unprecedented growth of the sector which translated an average growth of 33 per cent on domestic operations and 13.5 per cent on international operations between January 2017 and June 2018. Like many other records achieved by this administration, it has never happened in Nigeria.
In underscoring the crucial role of energy in the Aviation sector and the risk and destruction to lives and properties in an airport that has irregular power supply Capt. Sirika ensured that a 10 Megawatts (MW) Independent Power Plant for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, was built in Abuja to complement the power needs of the airport as well as other vital ventures that are in operation in the airport. According to him, there were a lot of planning deficiencies identified with the new terminal because which did not take into consideration the status of power in the aviation value chain. deficiency. The 19 MW plant became the response of a forward-looking administrator who must correct errors that were passed over to him by a regime that is concerned about the holistic development of the aviation sector. This independent power plant is part of the process of correcting among others the deficiencies inherent in the construction of the airport. Rather than just an energy plant, it is peace of mind for pilots, passengers, ground crews, their relatives and the entire aviation industry worldwide.
Intensity of the work and the extensive nature
The intensity of the work and the extensive nature it took by Sirika to reposition the nation’s aviation sector is worthy of commendation as he may be taking a bow out of the sector. The aphorism that it is fitting to exit the stage when the ovation is louder may not be part of the operational principles in this side of the world, we hope that if peradventure Sirika wants to leave the scene, he should be recognised by the government as one of the few high performing administrators of this regime. He deserves our appreciation and continued support even if he could be around serving in a consultative capacity in the aviation sector. Like wine, Sirika can only get better in the years ahead.
Olu Ayela, is a veteran Journalist based in Lagos.