By LOUIS IBA
There is this popular saying in Nigeria: “Soldier Come, soldier Go; but barrack remains.” It usually strikes the hearer as a subtle paradox: capturing not just the reality that some institutions are like unmoveable mountains, but also, and to a very large extent, the inevitability of changes. The saying also depicts the futility of human beings clinging onto the reins of power (either in state-owned establishments or private institutions) like demi-gods and in a manner that tends to suggest that by their exit, such establishments would grind to a halt.
I began to reflect more on this saying following the way and manner in which recent changes were made by President Goodluck Jonathan in his cabinet, particularly as it concerns the removal former of Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah which was quickly followed by those of key heads of agencies in the aviation sector and their replacement with new ones.
In the new appointments, the former director of projects at Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Mr. Saleh Dunoma was announced as a replacement for Mr. George Uriesi as the managing director. The erstwhile general manager in charge of procurement at Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Ibrahim Abdulsalam took over from Mr. Nnamdi Udoh as the chief executive officer.
The baton change at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), saw Capt. Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick, a former Government Safety Inspector working for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Focal Point for Nigeria online aircraft safety information systems, replacing Nigeria’s first female pilot, Capt. Chinyere Kalu as Rector.
At the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the former commissioner of Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIPB), Capt. Muhktar Usman, would replace Capt. Fola Akinkuotu as the director general.
However, the director general designate will not take over immediately as the director of airworthiness at NCAA, Mr. Benedict Adeyileka, would serve in acting capacity pending Usman’s confirmation by the Senate which is statutory.
At the Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIPB), the former director of licensing at NCAA, Dr. Felix Abali takes over from Usman as commissioner.Only the director general of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Dr. Anthony Anuforom, was retained.
Agreed that Oduah’s removal, was somewhat anticipated following the scandal involving the alleged purchase of custom-made BMW cars at the cost of N255million, but i doubt she saw it coming.
Although, I cannot tell why Chinyere Kalu was removed as Rector/CEO of the Nigerian College of Aviation College, Zaria, looking back, and for anyone who cared to keep an ear on the ground, it was obvious that there were going to be changes at the leadership of the other aviation parastatals, following allegations of graft, which were directly and indirectly linked to contract awards and other breaches of due processes in these establishments during Oduah’s tenure.
The weekend that preceded her removal, I was privileged to have been on a team of journalists who embarked on a tour of some of the airports with Oduah. From the Abuja airport where the tour took off, we visited by air the Yola, Sokoto, Ilorin, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Enugu airports.
Oduah was carrying on with her duties with all the strength she could muster, dishing out instructions to airport managers, setting target deadlines on the delivery of projects to contractors, and assuring passengers at the airports visited that whatever inconveniences they were experiencing was temporary as all will be well very soon. Nothing in her body language had suggested that she was aware her days were numbered on the job.
Oduah had found in Nnandi Udoh (then MD of NAMA), George Uriesi (of FAAN), Muhktar Usman of AIPB able lieutenants. They were always by her side. Their agencies were the greatest beneficiaries of the reforms. And they did their best to market the reform programme to investors. I learnt over $1.6billion must have been attracted into the sector in the last two years with the Chinese Exim Bank financing new airport expansion projects in the country by $500million. Fola Akinkuotu, the ex-DG of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), joined that team barely a year ago, as a replacement for Dr. Demuren whose tenure had elapsed.One thing no one can take away from the team – these CEOs – that worked for Oduah is that they showed an uncommon passion and commitment to the ideals of the transformation agenda.
One of the benefits of the reform was that in over three decades, all 22 federally-owned airports across the country were remodelled; resulting in improved passenger experience.
Also for the first time, 16 airports close to the nation’s food baskets were designated for Perishable Cargo to enhance preservation, conditioning and transportation of perishable cargo in accordance with international standards and best practice. Also, five modern, international passenger terminals are being constructed simultaneously in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.
But then in their conduct of effecting this transformation there was also a noticeable snag: the personification of the transformation agenda to the initiators and key drivers. It was not like the saying that the barracks stays if the soldiers come and go, but rather it was made to look as if the barracks will collapse or cease to exist as long as the soldiers go. A day after Akinkuotu was removed from the NCAA, one could hear people complaining that Nigeria might not regain her ‘Category One Status’ from the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that is coming to audit the Nigerian aviation sector as from March 31, 2014, notably the airports and allied facilities to ensure they meet international benchmark on safety. Category One status allows international flight operations from the United States into Nigeria and it was Akinkuotu that was driving that recertification quest for Nigeria.
The fear that the change of baton in the parastals would affect Nigeria’s chance of retaining the Category One status by the FAA and ICAO is so faulty.
Even the insinuation that the sack of the former director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Fola Akinkuotu would affect Nigeria’s Category 1 status, is misplaced.
The FAA as much as I know is not coming to audit the director general. They are not coming for individuals. They are coming to audit the processes that we have put on ground and which regulates our industry. So, whoever is CEO does not matter if our infrastructure and safety system is working in line with international standards.
I have been appalled that almost 13 years in a new democratic dispensation and with all the human capacity we are endowed with, it was possible to go round the affected agencies many days after the changes and still hear such cynical comments as “any project that was no completed by Oduah will perish”, “the transformation agenda is dead”, “no one can drive the process like Oduah”, “investors will run away” etc. You even get to hear comments that if a particular agency was not manned by someone from a particular ethnic group “the place cannot witness any growth.” “They will sabotage the place.” Hmm. I get so worried by these kinds of comment. It shows how poor we have progressed in building our institutions in a manner that is devoid of ethnicity and individualism. That some people still hold onto such beliefs shows how weak or vulnerable our regulatory institutions are to changes.
nIba is on the Business Desk of The Sun Publishing Ltd.