THE directive from the Minister of Aviation to all aviation agencies to relocate their agencies’ headquarters to Abuja in the next 45 amid the battle against COVID-19 has not gone unnoticed by stakeholders some of which have expressed divergent opinions on the directive giving its raison d’etre and its timing.
Nigerianflightdeck last Friday reported that the Ministry of Aviation directed all agencies and parastatals under its watch to relocate their corporate headquarters to the Federal Capital Territory Abuja in the next forty-five (45) days hence reenacting the botched 2012 Presidential directive.
The directive dated 4th May 2020 from the Ministry FMA/PMD/7061/T/4 signed on behalf of the Minister of Aviation by the director, Human Resource Management Muhammad Shehu is hinged on the premise of the current global economic situation and reducing cost of governance.
The letter titled: Relocation of Aviation Agencies to Abuja in part read: “Accordingly, considering the current situation and the economic impact worldwide as well as the need to reduce the cost of governance and manage scarce resources in a sustainable way, it has become imperative and further to the honorable Minister’s directive (Copy attached) to request that you facilitate and complete the relocation of your corporate headquarters within the next forty five (45) days in line with this earlier directive.
With this directive, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) are expected to relocate within the given time frame. Read Also: Ministry directs aviation agencies to relocate headquarters to FCT within 45 days
However, industry players who spoke to Nigerianflightdeck seem to consider the move to be too hasty especially given the lack of funds, restrictions in interstate travel and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic all over.
Head of Research, Zenith Travels, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo asked government to investigate why the relocation order did not work in the first place stating that the movement should not be from Lagos to Abuja but from inefficiency in management to efficiency.
“The government will need to go and investigate what has happened from 2012 what and why the movement was delayed, how some were paid relocation money and they never went and yet they remained in system and have not retired such funds.
“There is a whole lot of gambit that they need to put in place, I think the 45 days is a bit hasty considering the pandemic and trying to conserve funds as much as possible. These agencies have not generated funds in the last two months and whatever they have in their purse, I think it’s meant to stabilize them and make sure they don’t double their monthly expenses. They need stability in the industry and not to begin to push to move these organizations.
“There is time for it, I think 45 days should be looking at 45 weeks or there about so there could be careful planning, there would be restoration of the system and activities and there will be funds to address this but for me, the most important thing is about the movement of the industry. What we need in the industry is not a movement of the agency but It should be a movement from inefficiency to efficiency, manage our resources and the organogram of our agencies, it is too politicized with so much interference. How movement to Abuja will change this, time will tell,” he reasoned.
Also sparring his thoughts on the relocation of aviation agencies to FCT, Lead Consultant for ETIMFRI Group, Amos Akpan weighed the pros and cons stating that there is a reason the policy was stalled and a reason for its rebirth stating however, that it was wise to watch events unfold but that the policy is expensive to implement at this time because normal scheduled flights into Abuja would have barely started before the 45 days deadline.
He said, “Convenient of Administration. The government believes it will be less expensive and seamless synergy to manage aviation from Abuja. The inputs that led to this conclusion have not been divulged to the public therefore we cannot contribute from an informed position in this regards. By this I mean that they have the purse, they know how deep or shallow it is. They must have calculated additional infrastructure in Abuja, relocation allowances, and the initial disorientation occasioned by the relocation.
“By my observation, the heads of aviation agencies spend more work hours in Abuja (about 4 working days a week) in the last five years. Regarding business activities in the industry, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt are busier than Abuja. With modern technology the aviation industry can be managed from any location by internet, intranet, video conferencing etc. Scanned documents, email, text messages are now admissible legal documents.
He however explained where there might be a problem for this policy stating that regions and stations with heavy concentration of aviation activities must be enabled to take instant decisions and give feedback to the center.
“Regions and stations with heavy concentration of aviation activities must be enabled to take instant decisions and give feedback to the center. The aviation industry does not tolerate bureaucratic delays. By way of illustration, maintenance infrastructure for aircraft, handling and service equipments are concentrated in Lagos. To allow the equipment fixed back into operation, a representative of DAWS must be authorized to sign the repair log. My point is that the regions must retain powers to make key operational and technical decisions.”
“The government should be careful never to dislocate the structure that gave ICAO and FAA the confidence to rate us CAT1.”
“Though unofficially confirmed by Nigerian bureau of statistics, by demographic movements, Abuja is no longer attracting businesses like it did in the last three decades. People are relocating out of Abuja. Businesses will not direct air cargo movements into Abuja. Instead importers and exporters prefer Lagos, Kano, and Port Harcourt.”
He further advised that, “Barring undisclosed plan, the ministry and the agencies should be plotting how we will get back into cargo and commercial flight operations and survive this era instead of relocating at this moment. People are likely to give their interpretation to this relocation directive at this time. We need the commitment of all stakeholders from all regions at this time; which means, we don’t give them reasons to doubt the sincerity of any policy or directive.
“ We have dwelt too long on the platform of the country called Nigeria. It is time we begin to chart a course towards the nation called Nigeria. The difference? A country is comprised of a people in a territory controlled by a government. A nation comprises of a people bound by the zeal to live together and the passion to defend each other and their territory. Aviation industry has one standard. The only known politics within the industry worldwide is the protection of national interest.”
“Finally, this policy originated before this government. There is a reason it was stalled. There is a reason this government rebirth it. It is wise to watch events unfold so we get clear view. But it is an expensive policy to implement at this time because normal scheduled flights into Abuja would have barely started before the 45 days deadline.”
President of think-tank group, Aviation Round Table, Dr. Gabriel Olowo in his reaction first queried the possibility given the interstate restriction of movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic then stated that given the situation before the directive all agency heads were always in Abuja.
Dr Olowo said,”To relocate during Covid-19 interstate movement restrictions how possible and why the strict timeline given that Aviation businesses will gradually gain speed post Covid 19 probably Q3 2020. In any case, the Agencies Physical Presence and their Heads have always being in Abuja safe for their empty seats in Lagos. The policy statement has been there for a while; we had thought economic judgment had prevailed on their staying behind all this while.
Olowo however said that close proximity will increase undue interference in the aviation agencies especially the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) which must be autonomous in regulating the industry also inferring that service providers FAAN and NAMA will suffer in terms of revenue.
“Undue nearness will definitely erode the Autonomy status of NCAA given the place of Influence on political economy. Frequent Political interference as it were in the past will increase more so as we are approaching another election year. One will only hope the few good hands currently in place will not be politically dethroned on political preferences.
“Secondly, MMA being the highest revenue earner for FAAN and NAMA will suffer some administrative slack with the seat of direct control being away from Lagos. It’s like locating the bakery away from the production line and supply of flower. Direct and on the spot decision making by numero uno becomes delegated resulting to unnecessary gaps with timelines,” he said.