Barely two weeks after the removal of the former Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, the federal government has sacked some aviation agencies’ heads and made new appointments. The sudden removal of these officers keeps industry watchers pondering, Chinedu Eze writes.
It was a mixed grill when the news filtered in on Tuesday afternoon that the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu; the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), George Uriesi; the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nnamdi Udoh, and the Rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Captain Chinyere Kalu, had been removed. Akinkuotu, Uriesi, Kalu and Captain Usman Muktar, the then Commissioner of the Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIB), who was deployed as the Director General designate of NCAA, were being hosted by the Director General of the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Dr Anthony Anuforom, who organised a conference on 2014 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) at the Nicon Luxury Hotel in Abuja. Unless these agency heads were great dramatists, none of them seemed to have any inclination of what happened few hours later.
Together with the Supervising Minister of Aviation, Dr Samuel Ortom, they sat at the high table during the event. George Uriesi who seemed sober and calm when he spoke at the conference did not betray any emotion; nor did any of the others showed any sign that there was a premonition of what was happening when they exchanged banters outside the façade of the hotel as they took group photographs. But in less than one hour the news started making the rounds that these agency heads had been removed. The news was later confirmed by a press statement from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, signed by his Special Assistant (Media), Sam Nwaobasi. The Reorganisation The statement titled, Re-organisation in the Ministry of Aviation said, “His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has approved the following re-organization in the Ministry of Aviation:Engr. Saleh Dumona (Director Projects, FAAN) to replace Mr. George Uriesi as Managing-Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); Engr. Ibrahim Abdulsalam (General Manager, Procurements, NAMA) to replace Engr. Nnamdi Udoh as Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA); Capt. Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick (Government Safety Inspector ICAO Focal Point for Nigeria on line Aircraft Safety Information Systems, OASIS) to replace Capt. (Mrs.) Chinyere Kalu as Rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT). Capt. Muhktar Usman (Commissioner, Accident Investigation Prevention Bureau, AIPB) to replace Capt. Fola C. Akinkuotu as Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) subject to confirmation by the Senate. Engr. Benedict Adeyileka is to act as DG, NCAA pending the confirmation by the Senate and Dr. Engr. Felix A. Abali (Director Licencing, NCAA) to replace Capt. Muhktar Usman as Commissioner, Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIPB). Dr. Tony Anuforo retained his position as Director-General of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMMET). The statement aroused curiosity. Why did it emanate from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation instead of the Ministry of Aviation? Ortom who was at the NIMET event seemed obviously in the dark about the sack because neither his body language nor his utterances indicated that such thing was going to happen. In fact, THISDAY gathered that it was after the Supervising Minister left the event and went to his office that he was summoned to the Presidency. By then the news had started making the rounds.
Not a Surprise Although the change was a surprise to many Nigerians, including those in the aviation industry; many people saw it as a right action, perhaps prompted by the inexplicable enthusiasm that greets such actions because when an agency head is removed from office it is generally seen as a punitive measure. But these were the officers who presided over their agencies during the airport transformation programme, except the former Director General of NCAA who started work in August last year. When Akinkuotu started work few people in the industry gave him much chance to succeed because he replaced Dr Harold Demuren, a man whose oratorical prowess and tough mien seemed unequalled. An officer in NCAA told THISDAY that when the officials of the US Federal Aviation Administration came to audit NCAA for the award of Category 1 safety status to Nigeria, they were more satisfied with the personality of Demuren whose carriage conveyed the feeling he could make anything possible than the documentations of the processes. Although Akinkuotu did not have such outward charisma but he is a thorough professional, an engineer and a pilot who has put over 40 years into the industry. He was the one who airlifted Pope John Paul 11 when he visited Nigeria.
He once told THISDAY that he might not be so knowledgeable about administrative bureaucracy, but there was nothing anyone could tell him about the aircraft that he did not know. With such knowledge and skill, he fitted in with being the regulator, but no one knew why he was removed along with others few months after his appointment. But what is obvious is that Demuren upped the expectation of people in the industry by his performance. Officials of NCAA and others expected someone in that mould. So their expectations remained high, yet to be satisfied before Akinkuotu was removed. Muktar like others who were newly appointed has spent over 20 years in the industry. He is a gentleman of few words and knowledgeable. “He has no time for flowery exchanges but very effective in his job”, said industry commentator. Nnamdi Udoh who is a gregarious man of words, known more as compere at big events in the aviation sector is associated with the building and completion of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON). His leadership of NAMA was eventful because he was fought endlessly by the Air Traffic Controllers and it was under him that many of the technology based airspace safety and management projects were completed and near completion; like the VHF radio coverage, the automation of Aeronautical Information Service, the World Geodetic Survey and Performance Based Navigation.
The Controversies Few were surprised by the removal of Uriesi. Industry watchers said he would be long remembered for stirring unnecessary controversies while on the job. For the former Minister of Aviation to rehabilitate 22 airports in under two and half years, she had to be directly in charge. And in doing that, she partly usurped the job of Uriesi. That remained his grouse. So while Nigerians hailed the airport remodelling which put Nigeria’s airport infrastructure at a higher level and ended the protracted decay of many years, Uriesi was sulking, according to inside sources. In fact, shortly before the minister was removed, an official of Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) told THISDAY that they wanted the minister removed because she had taken over the job of the managing director. Another official of the agency who acknowledged that observation told THISDAY, “Practically she has to directly take charge of these projects for us to get results.
We don’t want this programme to end now because I cannot, in my wildest imagination think of the next person that can do this thing she is doing now. In the past, it took FAAN seven years to build domestic terminal at the Kano airport.” His regime was characterised by the invalidations of a number of concessionary arrangements he met on ground. His critics said his failure to abide by court judgments, especially in the termination of concession agreement with Maevis, a local company despite the repudiation of the action by a federal high court, increased the list of his critics and prepared the ground for his removal. Many in the industry saw Captain Chinyere Kalu as a non-starter. Although, those who know the first Nigerian female pilot say she is a professional who is not lacking in her job as an instructor, but not as a Rector. She however advanced changes in the school, added more programmes to the curriculum, acquired instruction equipment and expanded facilities for the admission of more students to the College. THISDAY spoke with the staff of these agencies, including those who have nostalgic feelings about the sacked agency heads and the general sentiment was that it was a positive change. An official of NAMA told THISDAY, “Nnamdi was a good leader but this man that replaced him, Ibrahim Abdusalam is a young man who has put many years in the industry. We believe that government knew why they appointed him and all of us have confidence in the new man.” An official of FAAN told THIDAY that Uriesi’s mind had left the agency even before his removal.
“There is no change he is going to bring in because he is no more enthusiastic about the job. I recall when he was newly appointed he was an action man, but those things have changed. Dunoma has put over 25 years in this industry so he knows the job and really, he is the man behind most of the actions you see in FAAN.” Industry analyst, Olumide Ohunayo, however described the new appointments as the hands of Esau and the voice of Jacob and said the change was ill timed, arguing that the changes should have been left for the next minister of Aviation that would soon be appointed. Ohunayo said he was peeved with the removal of NCAA Director General because such may jeopardise the planned auditing by FAA officials who would be coming at the end of this month to look at NCAA processes for the reassessment of the Category 1 Safety Status the US gave to Nigeria. Noting that some of the agencies’ heads who were sacked were lauded when they were appointed but they later became politicians, he said, “I will advise the new appointees who are professionals to go through their respective governing acts and advise the minister accordingly, rather than partake in aero political issues. Also, they should also avail themselves with the Procurement Act and the workings of the Due Process Unit. These are the banana peels in the industry.”