The tardy response by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to the recent confrontation between Arik Air and its workers has exposed the underbelly of the regulator of Nigeria’s aviation sector.
Operating under the aegis of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), the workers grounded the airline’s operations for about 20 hours on December 20 because of non-payment of seven months’ salary arrears, non-remittance of taxes and pension, and stagnation of the work force for 10 years, among other issues.
Air transportation, unlike land, is regulated and NCAA is statutorily empowered not only to carry out safety oversight on airlines but also the evaluation and analysis of the operations of all Nigerian registered airlines in order to determine their financial capability to carry out safe flight operations.
The workers’ showdown with Arik leaves no one in doubt as to whether NCAA has been carrying out economic audits on the domestic airlines.
It is unthinkable that the workers were owed salary for several months and the regulatory authority would not be in the know. But it chose to wait until the chips were down before it “brokered peace between the two parties.”
“Calm has been restored between the aviation unions and Arik Air by NCAA who brokered a truce between both parties.
“The regulatory authority had to intervene to avert the impending chaos the strike, if allowed to linger, would have brought to the huge volume of passengers who are travelling for the yuletide and end of the year celebrations.
“The airline and the unions were summoned to …NCAA where very fruitful deliberations were held with the NCAA as the moderator
“There were various resolutions reached which are contained in a communique issued at the end of the meeting.
“Arik Air and representatives of all the unions including NCAA signed the communiqué with the understanding that all agreed issues will be carried out,” said NCAA in a press statement issued around 8pm after the hostilities had started the airline had lost 20 productive hours.
This kind of ineptitude explains why the executive director of Centurion Security, Group Capt. John Ojikutu is hard on NCAA whenever issues concerning NCAA are on the table.
At the Aviation Round Table (ART) breakfast meeting held in Lagos recently, Ojikutu said NCAA “has not lived up to expectation as the regulator of the aviation industry.”
Ojikutu described the agency “inefficient” stressing “What we are always talking about is CAT 1 and we are happy. There is nothing in CAT 1; it is a mere paper.”
“I hold NCAA responsible for security breaches. You have failed in your responsibility. If NCAA is hamstrung, then there is something wrong,” said Ojikutu.
News Gazette shares Ojikutu’s view that NCAA has performed perfunctorily and that the strike would have been avoided if it had been proactive.
During the standoff, what kept people worried was the thought-provoking statement “A disgruntled worker is an accident waiting to happen” boldly inscribed on a placard displayed by one of the protesters.
This does bring into question some of the recent happenings in the airline. Could that have been responsible for the involvement of some of the airline’s staff in despicable acts?
In August 2015, Arik’s cabin crew, Chika Egwu Udensi was arrested by the United Kingdom Border Force at Heathrow Airport for being in possession of 20 kilogrammes of cocaine.
Another employee, Ikechukwu Chibuzor Oliver received N400, 000 advance payment to smuggle the drug on board the flight. His total share in the deal was N1.2 million.
In May 2013, two crew members, Temitayo Olubunmi Daramola and Delita Abibimbgi were arrested by British Customs at London Heathrow Airport for being in passion of cocaine.
Could they have tried to help themselves because of frustration in the work place? A disgruntled worker is an accident waiting to happen!
On August 24, 2013, Edo State-born Daniel Ohikhena, 13, stowed away on the wheel-well of the airline’s Flight W3 544 and landed at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos where he was arrested and later reunited with his family.
In 2012 the remains of a stowaway were found in the carrier’s wheel-well, Airbus A340-500 which returned from a flight to New York.
On September 20, 2010, the dead body of a stowaway was found in the wheel- well of the airline’s flight originating from South Africa.
Could an insider have aided the stowaways for a fee? A disgruntled worker is an accident waiting to happen!
Arik Air wears the toga of “West and Central Africa’s largest carrier”, “Nigeria and West Africa’s largest airline” that “operates a fleet of 28 state-of-the art regional, medium haul and long haul aircraft including two Airbus A330-200” and “operates close to 120 daily flights from its hubs in Lagos and Abuja,” but its corporate behaviour borders on haughtiness and incorrigibility.
There is a surfeit of complaints about the airline at the consumer protection directorate of NCAA. Its flights do not take off on time. Passengers who fly the airline wait for days and embark on prayer and dry fasting to get their luggage. The staff at the counters could be anything but civil. And when one is employed, even as a top management staff, one works with trepidation and becomes a master of dumbness to keep the job.
The ‘fastest growing airline” in ‘West and Central Africa has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. It’s not too late to turn over a new leaf.
There is no doubt that NCAA has a soft spot for the airline because of the volume of its operation but it should not gloss over workers’ welfare. Sophocles said “without labor nothing prospers.”