After the unfortunate crashes of Bellview, Sosoliso, ADC and other incidents, which led to the sack of Engr. Fidelis Onyeyiri, the agency became a household name in the country, the international community beamed its searchlight on the giant of Africa. It became clear that the tea party was over in the aviation sector in Nigeria that it was time for serious business in order to sanitise the sector. There were agitations from different quarters about the capability of those entrusted with the running of the regulatory agency and the need to get the right people on board.
The NCAA which was supposed to be the police of aviation industry in Nigeria was politicized. There was little or no autonomy of the agency. Politicians were calling the shots, professionals were side-lined by officials in the aviation ministry, the agency became very weak while the director general became an ‘errand’ boy to the ministry. So little or nothing was achieved. Airlines both foreign and local could not be strictly monitored and cutting of corners became the order of the day. It became pronounced when at a stakeholder’s event conveyed by the then president. Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja It was clearly stated to the gathering that airlines were cutting corners. Domestic airlines were ferrying passengers like night luxurious buses without strict adherence to the rules and regulations guiding their operations as a result of the weak civil aviation regulatory body.
But years after the gory crashes of 2005, 2006 in the country, safety became the watch word of those charged with the regulation of the industry. With the coming of the United States through their Federal Aviation Administration category 1 safety status to Nigeria and the International Civil Aviation Organisation Audit, the country gradually redeemed its battered aviation record in the international and local scenes. These feats attracted accolades from the aviation community across the globe – signifying that Nigeria was gradually taking its pride of place in the comity of nations.
In spite of the accolades from the international community, the worst disaster in the aviation world hit Nigeria with the crash of Dana MD 83 plane without any survivor with the 153 souls on board. This crash came a day after a Nigerian registered cargo plane crash landed in Kototo International airport Accra. The nation’s aviation again went into trenches in 2012 and capped it up in 2013 with the crash of Associated Air aircraft raising doubts about the capability of the regulatory agency. Stakeholders called for total overhaul of the aviation industry in the country with focus on the NCAA by injecting new professional blood into the system. Comrade Abdulrasq Saidu of Nigerian Aviation Professional Association NAPA queried the autonomy of NCAA and government interference in the running of the agency especially the political interference from the aviation ministry. Saidu described NCAA as a toothless bull dog, weak and politically inclined.
For the NCAA to operate effectively, stamp its authority in the aviation sector no matter whose airline is involved, undue political interference either from the aviation ministry or from the National Assembly must stop. Stakeholders have argued that weak NCAA was as a result of government interference. Captain Dele Ore, immediate past president of Aviation Round Table at different occasions called for the scrapping of the ministry of Aviation to allow NCAA stamp its authority on the industry using the autonomy not only on paper but to be demonstrated by applying sanctions. Ore recalled that in the past, NCAA took critical decisions aimed at repositioning the industry but only for the government to reverse them politically. Aviation stakeholders have emphatically agreed that NCAA has its autonomy on papers and should be allowed totally to operate and sanitize the industry without interference with its economic regulation. Stakeholders believe that the agency has done creditably in the area of safety maintenance.
Although it is stipulated that the director general of NCAA shall oversee the activities of in the aviation sector for four years but it is becoming very difficult to adhere to this tenure as they are hired and fired at will, even when their appointments were rectified by the parliament. This has led to the appointment of ‘Acting DGs’ anytime a substantive boss was fired. Stakeholders have frowned at this development. Capt. Dele Ore declared, “Why should an ‘Acting’ Director General spend nearly eight months in office acting? It gives room to manipulations. The period of acting should not be more than two weeks” He noted that so many things were compromised during the period of acting DGs’
Stakeholder agreed that a lot of irregularities were committed in the absence of a substantive director general. A situation created by the politicians for their ulterior motives to milk the agency of funds.
With the appointment of Usman Muhtar over a year ago as the substantive DG, the agency gradually started tracing its steps back to the days of glory. It started moving away from the tea party to doing serious aviation business.
Workers became angry and furious over some methods introduced by Muhtar to curb excesses shortly after assuming office. No more reckless financial spending in the agency, as a committee was set up to look into all outstanding staff claims for local and overseas trips. This action of Muhtar did not go down well with the workers, as claims for unattended seminars and trips were collected before his arrivals. Stakeholders commended the action in blocking loopholes in the sector saying it was meant to secure the future of the agency.
Only genuine claims with proves were paid and a situation where managers approved trainings for themselves was scrapped.
On assumption of office at a media parley in Lagos, Muhtar pledged that his administration will focus on Safety, Safety and Safety. This, Experts said, remained the watchword of the agency as safety will lead to a secured passengers comfort. With further pledge to strengthening the regulatory capacity through training over, N300million was earmarked for local trainings and retraining this year.
According to Muhtar, there will be no arbitrariness in running the agency but will be guided by the annexes of ICAO, NCARs and all the other relevant legislations in line with international conventions, standards and best practice while focusing on enforcement through the application of straight sanctions in situations of violations.
With focus on policy and infrastructure as critical elements in the development, of aviation sector, the agency has continued to forge ahead with the retention of FAA CAT 1 certification, 2015 ICAO Security Audit and the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).
NCAA is bedevilled with some challenges especially political interference in the day to day running of the agency. A virile autonomous NCAA will perform optimally when allowed to remain focused. Stakeholders are of the view that the agency has not actually utilized its autonomy.
Funding is another key challenge in the agency as airlines have defaulted in remitting monies collected on behalf of the agency from passengers. But kudos should be given to the agency in its directive to all debtor airlines to pay their debts or have their names, amount published in national newspapers.
NCAA has brighter future if allowed to continue with its regulatory oversight functions without interference. The aviation industry in Nigeria will fall into shape while operators will key into the rules and regulations as recommended by ICAO.
Stakeholders have argued that given the autonomy without restriction, political interference and the political will, the agency will move the aviation industry to greater height.
JAHY U STAR CO
Wrote in from Lagos