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I Stepped On Powerful Toes – Stella Oduah

*Says her actions are safety-driven

In a session in Lagos, Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, took Vanguard through her two-year old administration of the aviation sector. She spoke on the rot she met on her assumption of office, the reforms she introduced to make our skies safer, and the airports’ remodelling she initiated as part of the efforts to key into the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Opinions differ about the situation on ground in the aviation sector when you came in as minister in 2011. Some people claim the situation was bad. Others say it was not so bad. What exactly was the situation?

The first thing I did upon my appointment as Minister of Aviation on July 2, 2011, was to take a comprehensive assessment tour of all airports, all agencies and parastatals as well as their facilities and installations across the country. I found that safety and security-critical equipment and installations were obsolete, unserviceable or unavailable. Infrastructure all round-airport terminals were dilapidated and derelict.

Airport facilities and services such as air conditioning, toilets, trolleys, elevators, directional signage, power generators, etc were unserviceable, unreliable, unavailable or not user-friendly. Security screening equipment at airports was obsolete and mostly unreliable. Airport fire stations and fire fighting equipment were in poor condition, with fire hydrants unserviceable and firemen and women had gone without proper kits for years. Working condition of staff in airport offices was terrible and unsafe (i.e. leaking roofs, broken floors, no power supply, etc.).

Working condition for air traffic controllers in the control towers was poor with serious safety risks for the industry. Several control tower upgrade projects spread across the country, about 154, had been abandoned. Several runways were without lighting.

Stella Oduah at the House of Representatives hearing
Stella Oduah at the House of Reps hearing

The Aviation Training College in Zaria had lost its ability to train students and lacked adequate equipment and facilities. There was massive leakage of agencies revenue due to manipulation of manual revenue collection processes while there was further loss of agencies’ revenue due to several lopsided so-called ‘concession’ agreements that were skewed against the government and the public interest. We had poor management structures and weak corporate governance frameworks in agencies and parastatals which made accountability difficult, if not impossible.

There were extremely unhealthy domestic airlines and a business model that made government interventions wasteful and of no positive effect. Domestic airlines were withholding money that did not belong to them, and falling to pay their bills as and when due. There was apathy by the entire industry to basic customer service responsibilities.

Complete neglect of economic regulation was seriously compromising overall safety and proper economic development of the domestic airline sector. We had a general aviation sector that was almost completely unregulated creating a huge safety gap in the industry and an obsolescent national aviation policy. There was total lack of planning in the entire industry.

We have at least three major airports namely Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt which one would have expected the aviation authorities to take adequate care of, not only because of the high traffic that passes through them but also because of what they represent: The symbols of aviation in Nigeria. In what state were they?
Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), the nation’s main gateway, had been left to rot and decay massively to the point that it had become unbefitting of our country. Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport Abuja (NAIA) had a domestic terminal better described as unfit for purpose. The international terminal of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano (MAKIA) was a very sad tale to tell. Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA) was by far the worst of all the airports.

So what was the impact of the sorry state of affairs of our aviation infrastructure?

In terms of safety and security, the industry was in retrogression, generally lagging far behind the rest of the world. Economically, the industry had become a net liability to government and the national economy. The industry had established for itself a negative image and thus had become a very poor symbol of our national identity. Several intervention funds injected into the industry resulted in no identifiable, tangible benefits.

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