There has been no love lost between the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers and the commissioner of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Dr. Felix Abali over the upgrade of an employee who was seconded to the Bureau from another agency. But it seems there is more in the altercation than one might ordinarily think
The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) has taken the commissioner of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Dr. Felix Abali to the court of public opinion over what it considers as “serious infraction” in the agency.
The breach, according to the association, revolves around the promotion of the president of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), Mr. Benjamin Okewu, who was seconded to AIB from the Nigerian College of aviation Technology (NCAT) as a principal planning officer.
The association frowned that “the same the person is now operating at AIB as human resources manager at AIB.”
But a senior staff of AIB who craved anonymity told News Gazette that the cat and mouse relationship between NAAPE and AIB goes beyond the issues surrounding Okewu’s appointment.
He alleged that some persons in AIB were fighting a proxy war using NAAPE to cause trouble with the aim of removing the commissioner from office.
It was gathered that some staff of the Bureau had written anonymous petitions against Abali to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Department of State Service (DSS), the Nigeria Police Force, the ministry of aviation and even the presidency, accusing him of corrupt practices.
The source said investigations carried out by all the relevant organisations, including the presidency, cleared the commissioner of the allegations.
The source said after all the false allegations failed, “they have now resorted to using the union to forcefully remove Abali by trying to give substance to the allegation of incompetence despite his many years at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other world renowned institutions.”
He added: “The deluge of petitions and current subterfuge are the handiwork of the same cabal that had fought past administrations since the inception of the bureau. They bitterly fought the pioneer commissioner, Dr. Sam Oduselu as well as Capt. Muhtar Usman before he was posted to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
“The same people are bent on ousting Dr. Abali so that they can gain power to control the agency. Okewu’s appointment and the unnecessary controversy surrounding it have made NAAPE the willing too to be used by the cabal in the bureau.”
NAAPE, according to the source, has only six members in both in the Lagos and Abuja offices of the Bureau , “but we are surprised to see a union that has no footing yet in AIB now being used by some persons in the agency to fight the management and heat up the agency.”
The source also alleged that one of the union’s members used against the chief executive already has an issue which borders on insubordination.
“One of their members on Grade Level 12 already has three disciplinary issues in his file awaiting the management’s decision. This happened even before the inauguration of the union in the bureau. He now attempts to use the union to frustrate justice.
“He was rude to a senior officer in the agency. This is not tolerated in the civil service rule. The same person threatened to beat up two of his colleagues on two different occasions. He was given queries. The same officer was also rude to the commissioner recently. Being a union member does not give one the power to be rude to one’s superiors.”
He added: “Although the national secretariat is believed to be reaching out to the AIB management to preempt possible sanction, the option left to the management is to decide whether it wants to dance to the union’s tune or set a bad precedent of allowing insubordination in the organisation.”
The source recalled how the national president of NAAPE, Mr. Isaac Balami in one of his meetings with the minister of state for aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika criticised all the aviation agencies’ chief executives and openly called for Abali’s sack even when NAAPE branch was yet to be inaugurated in the bureau.
“It is curious that the leadership of NAAPE would not fight for the general welfare of its members; instead it pursues personal war against the management. It is equally sad that NAAPE could not address the injustice done to its members in AIB in following the recruitment done under a former minister but it has now elected to fight for members of another union,” the source stated.
Okewu was seconded from the college as principal planning officer to AIB where he assumed as acting head of human resources.
But NAAPE has continued to question the rationale behind Okewu’s promotion from Consolidated Tertiary Education Institution Salary Structure (CONTEDIS) 12 in NCAT to 15 in AIB.
“We consider this unwholesome situation to be under-the-table arrangement by both the commissioner and Mr. Okewu and is a subversion of public service rules, an affront on the delegated powers of the federal ministry of transportation, a calculated effort to stultify the progression of other hardworking staff of AIB, an abuse of the powers of the commissioner of the bureau and a clandestine scheme to unleash terror on the perceived enemies of the commissioner which has already commenced since the coming of Okewu,” said NAAPE in a petition signed by its deputy general secretary, Mr. Ofonime Umoh.
But in its response, AIB charged the union to stop meddling in the internal affairs of the agency but concentrate on working for the improvement of its members’ welfare.
In a statement issued in Lagos and signed by the agency’s spokesman, Mr. Tunji Oketunbi, AIB stated that “trade unions should not fan embers of disunity but work for cohesion and team work in establishments where they are represented.”
“While we do not, as a policy, want to join issues with people, especially trade unions…AIB management is constrained to respond to set the records straight.
“If the authors of the petition had done their home work, they would have realised that the salary structure of NCAT is different from that of the regular civil service.
“NCAT is part of the tertiary education salary structure where the highest grade level is CONTEDIS 15 for a director while the civil service salary structure, which AIB operates, terminates at grade level 17 for a general manager.
“Besides, Mr. Okewu was due for promotion as at January 2016. AIB cannot promote him but only asked him to cover the duties of the head of human resources in acting capacity as acting general manager (GL 15 or CONTEDIS 13).
“Moving into human resources from planning background in addition to his immense experience in industrial relations is a plus for his new assignment,” said AIB