Former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Olusegun Demuren, is a man widely known in the aviation industry, where he has operated for several decades, for his thoroughness and professional sagacity. His impressive record as the top policeman of the country’s airspace during the turbulent period of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, when aircraft were dropping from the skies in an alarming fashion, speaks volumes. Tough-talking Demuren, the septuagenarian owner of Afrijet Airlines, surely knows his onions, as he brought his wealth of experience to bear on the chaotic aviation sector when Obasanjo appointed him the DG of NCAA in December 2005. When a livid Obasanjo, at a tense parley in Lagos, tongue-lashed stakeholders in the aviation sector for alleged greed and complacency – following the fatal crashes of Bellview Airlines Flight 210, which killed all the 117 people on board on October 22, 2005; and the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145, which led to the deaths of 105 of the 108 passengers, including 61 young and promising students of Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja, on December 10, 2005 – all the stakeholders knew it was time for a massive surgical operation in the sector. And Demuren, as the quintessential aeronautical surgeon, did not disappoint.
Up until the time he was ill-advisedly eased out by the Federal Government on March 11, 2013, it was clear to all and sundry, especially players in the aviation sector, that a no-nonsense, non-querulous professional, who does not suffer fools gladly, had passed through the industry, restoring sanity and whipping all to line through his strategic short, medium and long-term plans anchored on Safety, Security and (Consumer) Satisfaction (consumer) in that order of priority. Demuren, expectedly, carved a niche for himself in NCAA.
However, while there at the aviation regulatory agency, the defunct Soviet Union-trained aviator was so engrossed in his job that he simply forgot the saying of one of America’s greatest Presidents, Thomas Jefferson, that “It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”
I am sure that in his wildest imagination, the Ijebu-born Demuren would not have thought that massive privatisation of the country’s airports, other than the Murtala Muhammed Airport Two (MMA2), as is being proposed by the present administration, would be a state policy so soon. Why do I say this? Why, because Demuren’s actions and deeds while at NCAA never portrayed him as an aviation policymaker desirous of seeing a private sector-driven airport management. In fact, his body language was interpretatively to put a kibosh on the Public-Private Participation (PPP) mantra in the aviation industry.
For instance, as a keen supporter of PPP in aviation – because I believe it is the surest way to bring the desired development to the sector - I never heard the former NCAA DG support loudly, or play any significant reconciliatory role between the few, mischievously demonised private sector players in the industry and the government, while he was at the helm, as he has been doing in recent times. Perhaps the ‘born-again’ Demuren has just realised that private sector participation is a sine qua non for the ultimate development of the aviation sector. Indeed, this new thinking is timely, that is if it is really genuine and devoid of hidden conditionality.
There was no any other way the former NCAA DG revealed his new garb other than his recent advice to the Federal Government to resolve all issues associated with the concession of MMA2 with its concessionaire, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), if it is actually serious about its determination to allow the private sector play a major role in its airport transformation agenda.
While speaking on the topic, “Integrating Aviation in Economic National Planning,” at a two-day International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference in Abuja, Demuren, in a manner suggestive of a metamorphosed apostle of PPP, said it is pertinent for the Federal Government to involve private investors in its plans to drive the development of the aviation sector. According to him, for investors to embrace the sector, the current crisis over the PPP specifically involving BASL should be appropriately addressed, warning that without amicable resolution of this, private investors would be skeptical to come into the sector. In his words, “There is the need for PPP in aviation in Nigeria as it is obvious that government cannot do it all. But with the experience of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Two, MMA2, Lagos, government has not shown good faith. Such crisis in the MMA2 PPP must be resolved, or else investors would not invest their resources in the sector.”
Although confusing and rather opaque, this is a piece of good advice from one of the people who should know. However, methinks this kind of advice, coming many years after Demuren was eased out of his job as the DG of NCAA, is a little bit suspect, and may be weightless at the end of the day. In fact, there is the need to confirm the verity of this newfound love for the managers of MMA2. For while he was in charge at the agency, and as a keen observer of events in the industry, the Demuren I knew then never gave an independent thought about, or had a kind word for Bi-Courtney and MMA2. As the then czar of the aviation industry, some nice words for the concessionaire of MMA2 would have carried more weight, if the aeronautical engineer had spoken his mind to the government at the time, as he has just done now. The then Minister of Aviation would have listened to him and possibly taken his advice more seriously. The minister and even the former President would have respected him the more, if he had earlier offered this kind of homily on how to resolve the issues with Bi-Courtney.
However, it is rather late than never, for it is gladdening to know that all the thoroughly whipped private investors in the aviation sector, whose concessions have been deliberately frustrated, now have a new convert in Dr. Harold Olusegun Demuren. And to the aeronautical engineer, although there is the possibility that your good advice on MMA2 may be ignored, let the word of the classic author, Agatha Christie, that “Good advice is always certain to be ignored, but that’s no reason not to give it” be your guiding principle.
*Adewunmi sent this piece from Lagos.