The senate committee on aviation carried out oversight of the performance of agencies in the ministry of aviation and in a no-holds-barred manner told the chief executives of the agencies that the era of business-as-usual oversight was over for aviation sector in Nigeria had become a national embarrassment despite the huge budgetary allocation
By Ime Akpan
The day was November 21, 2016 and the setting was the headquarters of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). At 11am, four ‘wise members’ of the senate committee on aviation, senators Bala Ibn Na’Allah, Rilwan Soji Akanbi, Mohammed Sha’aba Lafiagi and Jeremiah Useni emerged from the inner chambers of the director general of NCAA, Capt. Usman Muhtar and took their seats in the agency’s conference room.
In the absence of the chairman of the committee, Senator Adamu Aliero, the vice chairman, Na’Allah, superintended over the affairs of the day.
Before he called each of the aviation agency chiefs to the ‘witness box’, he stated emphatically that the era when the committee would come for a jamboree oversight function was over adding that “we are all living in self-denial” while the aviation sector was dying.
“This visit is unlike any previous one; we intend to honestly look at where the industry is especially as there are no funds to carry out some high-end projects due to the economic challenges in the country.
“We have appropriated money; implementation has begun already and what we are looking for are the successes and shortfalls. We must accept that the industry is in trouble and we are all involved.
“We have not come to indict anybody, but we are going to review the entire industry and projects line by line to see where we are, reduce certain or not continue with them so as to bring the industry back on course,” he said.
Na’Allah who flew the aircraft which brought him and his colleagues to Lagos said gave a front row account of what the pilots had been complaining about the airspace and runways.
He said the committee was disturbed that those things which some smaller African countries achieve effortlessly and even boast about them had become rocket science in Nigeria.
After those remarks, he invited the managing director of FAAN, Mr. Saleh Dunoma to address the committee.
As there is no chance of completing and delivering at once all the four new terminals under construction at the Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt airports, Dunoma called for the pooling of resources to speedily complete the ones at the Lagos and Abuja airports because of their strategic importance.
He appealed to the lawmakers to prevail on the contractors, China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) to expedite action and complete the two terminals because the two airports are the milch cows of the agency.
He said “these are where we have huge passenger turnover” adding that FAAN generates its revenues internally.
He said the agency’s revenues were dwindling and appealed for some appropriation to enable it connect the existing terminal at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal with the new one under construction.
Besides, he said some runways were in poor state and “we have to fix them.”
He said FAAN was ploughing on with fixing the runways at Abuja, Enugu and Akure airports even though its revenue had nosedived partly due to airlines’ inability to pay their debts.
He blamed the airlines’ inability to pay on the scarcity of aviation fuel (JET A-1) and called on the committee to look at the issue with a view to addressing it.
“Facilities are being overstretched and FAAN as an organization does not have any appropriation in the 2016 budget. This organization solely depends on internally generated revenue for maintenance of capital and semi-capital projects.
“Now, FAAN is working on two or three airports’ runways that have critical issues. We are already deciding on the Abuja runway and we will be seeking public co-operation as the runway will be closed. Also there are the Enugu Airport runway and that of Akure which may not be much of a problem because of the low traffic volume there,” said Dunoma.
In his response, Na’Allah commended FAAN for being a good manager of funds.
He said complaint about paucity of funds had been a recurrent issued and promised that the committee would look at it.
However, he tasked FAAN to ensure that the runways are clearly marked to improve safety.
“If the instrument landing system (ILS) has technical issues, it will not be an issue if the runways are marked properly. You don’t need to deplete your internally generated revenue to do runway marking. This will engender safety and aircraft approaching. If they don’t see the navigational aids they will see the markings clearly,” he said.
He also asked FAAN to ensure that illegal fees collected at airports across the country were done away with.
On the scarcity of aviation fuel, Na’Allah attributed it to the work of a cartel: “The problem in the aviation fuel distribution network is a cartel issue. We are going to dismantle the cartel; we are going to unbundle aviation fuel supply system. If they do not want to supply the product, they should leave. They have been lying about the crisis in the Niger Delta. But there is crisis in Southern Sudan, yet aviation fuel is still cheaper there. If we don’t take steps, it will take two to three days to fly from Abuja to Lagos,” he said.
Thereafter, the acting managing director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Emma Anasi addressed the committee.
Anasi reported that NAMA had taken delivery of navigational aids for the four international airports, including Minna and Jos, taken delivery of spares to retrofit the navigational aids to function properly.
On the TRACON, Anasi said the facility was working optimally “but it is a technology that changes with time” and called for the extension of its maintenance contract.
On radio communication, he said the network was designed in 1980 and commissioned in 1994 in eight locations, adding that since that time NAMA had been unable to establish new routes to take care of the existing network.
Besides, he said NAMA had procured some navigation equipment and was waiting for FAAN to put structures at airport so they (equipment) could be deployed.
Thereafter, entreated the committee to inspect some of its equipment at its corporate headquarters, a request which the committee acquiesced.
In his response, Na’Allah spoke particularly about the poor state of communication and navigation aids. He said it was scandalous that while the facilities in some smaller countries like Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Senegal, Sao Tome and Principe, etc that have little resources work optimally, the ones in Nigeria have issues all the time, despite the huge funding.
“When we talk of aviation and begin to feel that it is only Nigeria that has aviation, I feel bad. Navigational aids work elsewhere in Ghana, Benin, Dakar and other places. Why are they not working here? We want to know in the last six years what we have invested in radio frequency,” he added.
He said since there was not much money again, the committee would like to know what had been done with the funds appropriated in the past so as to know the next line of action.
The commissioner of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Dr Felix Abali made a case for the creation of accident intervention fund for the agency.
He cited the example of Malaysia Airlines that was able to survive despite two air crashes saying that was made possible because the country has a special fund to take care of such situation.
He said if the accidents happened in Nigeria, such airline would fizzle out.
Abali also said the bureau needed more money from the ticket sales charge (TSC) to execute its projects maintaining the 3 percent given to the agency from the TSC was inadequate.
Responding, Na’Allah prayed that the fate that befell the Malaysian carrier should not happen in Nigeria. However, he said the committee would look into the TSC issue.
Thereafter, drove in a convoy to NAMA headquarters where they briefly inspected the some equipment. They also stopped over at the momentarily at the new terminal built by CCECC at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport.
The committee’s visit was a complete departure from their past oversight outings. In the days of yore, the lawmakers would have spent at least two days touring all the agencies and saying the same thing as well as inspecting all old and new projects, including the ones they inspected in earlier visits.
Will the legislators walk the talk or return and sit pretty in their comfort zone while aviation sector remains a national embarrassment?