The new Aviation and Aerospace Development Minister, Festus Keyamo, vows to overhaul the aviation sector while stakeholders demand improvement of airport infrastructure, write LILIAN UKAGWU and FUNMI FABUNMI
During the final phase of the tenure of former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Seriki, his administration became entangled in various controversies. One prominent issue was the controversial launch of the nation’s flagship carrier, Nigeria Air, on his last day in office. Industry stakeholders believe that the ex-minister departed, leaving several deficiencies in the aviation sector that now fall upon his successor, Festus Keyamo, to address and rectify.
Industry players believe the new aviation minister should take the baton from where his predecessor stopped by ditching the planned national carrier and focusing on improving infrastructure in the airports and reforming the sector in general.
And in swift response to stakeholders’ demand, Keyamo on Thursday announced the suspension of the Nigeria Air project and airport concession. The minister disclosed this during a tour of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.
The Lagos airport was given to a concessionaire, the Corporacion American Airport Consortium, which comprises the Corporation American Airports, Mota Engil Africa, and Mota Engil Nigeria during the twilight of former President Muhammedu Buhari’s administration.
When the new minister assumed office on Monday, August 21, he said he would continue to build on the aviation sector road map developed by the immediate past administration with no plans to reinvent the wheel.
The minister noted that while he liked the way the road map was structured, he intends to thoroughly look at things that may not have been done so well. “I have read the road map, the one developed in 2016. I read it thoroughly. Our intention is not to disrupt things that have been done so well. If there are things that have not been done so well we will look at them thoroughly.
“For me, my watchword is transparency. At every point, the Nigerian people must understand what we are doing and carry everyone along so that we don’t have some of the complaints we had in the past. We are serving the Nigerian people. Everything I do has always been to satisfy the Nigerian people,” he explained.
According to Keyamo, he was going to move from very complex issues to simple issues that every Nigerian faces, complaints they have.
“They may not know the work we are doing behind in terms of safety, but usually, people appreciate what they see every day like the cleanliness of the environment, and how early they get their flights among others.
“At every point in time, we must put the people first. I intend to start getting briefings from the directors first, then agencies, starting tomorrow. The permanent secretary should draw a schedule for the briefings,” he stated.
The former President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents, Bankole Bernard, stresses the need for the new minister to reform the aviation sector, promote capacity development, and maintain regular engagement with stakeholders.
“We are equally glad to hear that he mentioned that he will continue from where his processor stopped, but with a lot of transparency within the industry.
“We want to draw to his attention that the aviation industry has three sectors. We have the downstream sector of the aviation industry; we have the midstream sector and the upstream sector. We will advise that he pays attention to each sector because they are all interwoven and it will necessitate the required growth for the entire industry,” he noted.
Emphasising the importance of capacity development, Bernard urged the new minister to focus on enhancing the aviation training organisations in the country. According to him, they are fundamental in building the required skills and knowledge within the industry.
Bernard, who doubles as the chief executive officer of Finchglow Holdings and chairman of Airlines and Passengers’ Joint Committee of the International Air Transport Association, advocated regular stakeholders’ meetings, highlighting the importance of engagement for the success of any administration.
“Lastly, for the success of every administration, engagement is very keen. We would want to encourage him to continue from where the last minister stopped by having a regular stakeholders’ meeting. Stakeholders’ meetings connect everybody within the industry and they get updates on what is happening and it eliminates every form of assumption here and there. So, if he can do all this, I think it will go a long way in repositioning the industry,” he remarked.
The President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents, Susan Akporiaye, welcomes the appointment of the new minister. She was optimistic that Keyamo would bring truth, equity, fairness, and justice to the aviation industry.
Akporiaye said that the travel agents’ community was thrilled to have a minister with a commendable character and strong convictions. “We are excited we have a new minister and we are very hopeful knowing he is someone who believes and stands for truth, equity, fairness and Justice. We are hopeful that he will contribute to making the sector better,” she enthused.
For the Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Security Limited, Capt. John Ojikutu (retd), the new aviation minister should focus on the successful execution of airport concessions instead of the controversial national carrier.
Furthermore, he urged Keyamo to shift his focus towards policies that pertain to flag carriers, stressing the significance of collaborating with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Justice to review bilateral air services agreements.
He said, “Keyamo should just remain in his office but ensure that the airport concession goes on as planned and forget about the plan for the so-called national carrier but make policies for flag carriers. He should leave further processes and operational regulations to the NCAA. The review of the BASAs should be his concern alongside the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Justice.”
Also, the Assistant Secretary General of Aviation Round Table, Olumide Ohunayo, noted that the sector had traumatic experiences during the tenure of the previous minister.
He hoped that the new minister would bring a fresh perspective and robust legal expertise to resolve contentious agreements affecting public interest and investments.
“I pray that affliction will not arise a second time for us in the industry,” he stated.
A former President of Aviation Round Table, Gbenga Olowo, told The NewsAfrica, “The aviation ministry has done more harm to the industry in all my years in the sector. I’m of the school of (thought) that it should be a department in the Ministry of Transportation just as it is in the US. It will have less political interference and manipulations on CAA and significantly reduce the cost of governance with the already lean purse.”
For aviation labour leader, Olayinka Abioye, urged Keyamo to shed his toga of indifference but wear that of “a well cultured, civilised gentleman that he is”. He stressed the need for the minister to study the industry properly. “He will enjoy the total support of all of us. It gladdens my heart that he is someone that is approachable and sensitive to issues about safety and security of the Nigerian Airspace,” he asserted.
For aviation expert, Mr Adeola Fadairo, the industry expects the new Minister of Aviation to recalibrate the infrastructural and the opaque ways of doing things in the industry.
“He should have an open mind on issues so as to be able to have a definitive solution to the multi-faceted problems plaguing the sector. He has his job well spelt out for him and this would test his ingenuity in delivering on the mandates sets out to do.”
While referring to the aviation ministry as a very complex and dynamic industry, he advised the new minister to consult stakeholders widely on matters that affect the industry and stamp his leadership authority within the shortest possible time.
He added, “The industry will expect the new minister to have an open mind on issues so as to be able to have a definitive solution to the multi-faceted problems plaguing the sector.”
More so, the Managing Director of Airline Management Support Limited, Capt. David Olubadewo, in a recent interview with The NewsAfrica, urged the government to put rules and regulations on the ground to protect local airlines. “That is how it is done globally. Also, they should set up a leasing company to lease aircraft to airlines in Nigeria because we need to grow and build our airlines,”
According to Olubadewo, this would be a win-win situation for the airlines and the government, because it would boost both the airlines and the economy as the government gradually recoups the money it spent on the acquisition of the aircraft. “China did the same thing to become the biggest aviation market. Also, the Dubai government supported Emirates to grow. So, the Nigerian government should support the local airlines to build them up. For instance, what is the point of foreign airlines coming here and flying to all our major local routes?” he quizzed.