Six years after Sirika runs aviation agencies without governing boards

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Ime Akpan

In November 2015, Mr. Hadi Sirika was appointed minister of state for transport, aviation. After he served out the junior ministerial tenure under Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who was the minister of transportation and aviation, Sirika was made minister of aviation in August 21, 2019 when aviation was severed from transportation.

But six years down the line, Sirika has not constituted the boards for the five aviation parastatals.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMeT) and Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria are the five aviation parastatals that President Muhammed Buhari, in December 2017, named board chairmen and members.

The current minister of trade, industry and investment and former governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Niyi Adebayo was appointed as chairman of FAAN board with Akingbesote Akinyeye, Suleiman Mohammed Bello and Bello Babura as members.

The NCAA had Mr. Mohammed Abdullahi as chairman with four members – Messrs Edet Nkpebre, Uzoma Igbonwa, Adisa Adeniji and Mohammed Salau Kafi.

For NAMA, Dr. Yakubu Lame was appointed as chairman with Abdullahi Y. Gashua and Capt. Ibraheem Olugbade as members.

Dr. Simeon Adeyemi Afolayan was named NiMeT chairman while Mr. J.F Alake and Dr. Chichi Ashwe were members.

NCAT had Mrs. Deborah Iliyas as chairman and Mr. Simon Owhofa as a member.

However, Sirika refused to swear in the board saying they lacked the requisite qualifications as prescribed by the Act establishing the agencies.

Industry stakeholders said the failure to inaugurate the boards may have a negative effect on the agencies since the financial spending by their heads are limited by law as they can only go through the board for approval.

They faulted the minister saying if the composition of the appointees negated the Acts setting up some of the agencies as he claimed, he ought to have taken up the matter with the appropriate authorities.

They added that the current situation of non-functional boards is a violation of the laws setting up those agencies and gives room for abuse, corruption and irresponsibility.

Agencies of government, according to them, are established by laws, which ought to be obeyed to the letter.

The laws, they said, prescribe the credentials of the appointees, the tenure and the organisational structure of the agency.

They further contended that the importance of agencies having boards is that it limits the political interference of ministers, prevents arbitrary decisions of chief executives, and ensures that agencies of government run smoothly and professionally like their counterparts in the private sector.

They also believe that although inaugurating boards does not eradicate corporate malfeasance in the public sector, having board members in place is an indispensable condition for running a successful government. 

However, Sirika has continued to exhibit predilection for impunity, doing things arbitrarily and riding roughshod over others.

He treated with contempt the presidential directive that the boards of the agencies should be inaugurated immediately.

“The constitution of the boards with the appointments is a demonstration of this government’s efforts aimed at building strong institutions of governance, and by extension, improving the quality of Policy formulation and supervision.

“While these appointments represent a substantial number of hitherto pending board appointments, some more appointments are still being processed and will be released in due course.

“The appointments take immediate effect and honourable ministers are advised to inaugurate the boards after letters of appointment have been issued,” said Buhari in a statement from the office of the secretary to the government of the federation on December 29, 2017 when 209 board chairmen and 1,258 board members were appointed.

If the presidential directive could not ‘lift up Olympus’, Sirika gave scant regard to the riot act read by the erstwhile national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Adams Oshiomhole on the need to inaugurate all boards under his (Sirika’s) ministries within one week or face sanctions from the party.

In a letter dated July 11, 2018, Oshiomhole said:  “This is to inform you that the attention of the national working committee has been drawn to your refusal to inaugurate members of the re-constituted boards under the supervision of your ministry.

“This contravenes the position of the national executive council, national caucus and the presidential directives to all ministers to inaugurate boards of parastatals under their ministries. We find this attitude as disrespect to the president and disservice to our great party.

“The party will henceforth no longer tolerate any appointee of government at all level who continue to willfully disregard lawful instructions from either the government or the party.

“In the light of the forging, you are hereby directed to inaugurate all the boards under your ministry within one week, failure of which the party will take appropriate disciplinary measures against you,” it stated.

Oshiomhole described as “illegal”, “height of mischief” and “abuse of office” for any minister to solely award any contract without going through the board and threatened that the party would discipline any minister who exhibited such aberrant behavior.

“And it is absolutely illegal. So, when a minister sits in his office to appropriate the powers of the board in a democracy, not in a dictatorship and award contract that didn’t go through boards, those are clearly abuse of office for which they are liable. I am convinced that what they are doing is not with the endorsement of Mr. President.

“If the minister refuses we will suspend him from the party. You know we must return to internal discipline.

“For me it is the height of mischief for any minister; you cannot purport to be honourable minister and you act dishonorably and nobody is greater than the party.

“And if the President condones disrespect for his office, I will not condone disrespect for the party. And we will expel the minister.

“We will prevail on the president that he can’t keep in his cabinet, people who have neither respect for his own decisions nor have respect for the party without which they would not have been ministers. There are no independent candidates in our system. Nobody, I emphasis no minister is above the party,” he said.

Sirika was unperturbed by any threat, especially from a chairman who joined the “party that we formed and brought them in.”

Commenting on the minister’s attitude, former general secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Mr. Olayinka Abioye, said there is a hidden agenda behind Sirika’s non-compliance with the presidential directive.

He explained that the minister may have delayed their inauguration in order to continue to have influence on the agencies and their chief executive officers.

“When you have a board in place, the minister seemingly does not exist except in higher policy formulation. The day-to-day running is vested in the chief executive officer and the board.

“The implication is that the minister wants to still control the happenings in the parastatals.

“You are aware that, by the Acts establishing these agencies, they are supposed to report to a board and, in the absence of a board, the minister takes charge.

“So, if the minister has the audacity to set aside the directive of Mr. President, it goes to show that something is definitely wrong with our system.

“The agencies are supposed to be supervised by boards and if there is a lacuna, which may be a dissolution or non-inauguration of boards, their responsibilities and functions would be taken over by the ministry, which is invariably what the minister is doing now.

“The chief executive officers have a spending limit and when they have to spend more than that, in the absence of the boards, they have to go to the minister for approval, which is largely given because of the political undertone attached to that requests,” he said.

Similarly, the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI) decried non-emplacement of the governing boards of the agencies saying such act casts doubt on transparency, accountability, and responsibility.

“Due to the nature of professionalism in the Aviation Sector, its critical nature together with safety issues, there is a fundamental need for the emplacement of boards (of directors) for prompt decision-making.

“ART is of the view that aviation sector policymakers adopt the international aviation best corporate governance for the promotion of safety.

“Sirika should as a matter of urgency inaugurate boards of directors for the respective agencies in order to avoid continuous breach of rules by the minister,” ASRTI said in a statement.

For her part, national officer of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Mrs. Sarah Rindams, described the failure to inaugurate the boards as “abnormal.”

She said the minister’s action would encourage unauthorised activities including the absence of checks and balances in the   agencies.

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