Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliyu, a Nigerian, an African is now the President of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the global body that regulates civil aviation. He was elected by the unanimous vote of all 36 member states of the Council on November 18th at the 38th General Assembly of the organisation in Montreal, Canada. He is the fifth President of the Council. Dr Aliu’s tenure commences on January 01, 2014.
His election is historic for Nigeria, Nigerians in the Diaspora and the African continent. In the 69-year history of the organisation, no African had been nominated or elected to head the body. Incumbent President, Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez, a Mexican is to serve out his tenure on 31st December 2013, giving way to Nigeria’s Dr Aliu. It was known several months, even years ahead that Gonzalez would end his tenure in 2013, so the vacancy was not only anticipated, but very well ‘advertised’.
Nigeria, like many other member states, including those from the African continent was eligible to file in a candidate. To be sure, the Presidency of ICAO is a very coveted position, and any member state with guts would relish an opportunity to clinch the top job. It was a trophy up for grasp by the very ambitious, courageous and most determined. Nigeria, not known to shy away from a fight where the prize is high didn’t need a second invitation. But someone had to act, and fast too.
Enter Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah. A consummate goal-getter, Oduah sees clear opportunities where many others grope to hazard even a wild guess. The dream looked tall and far-fetched, but with Oduah no dream, especially those that have the potential to bring honour, dignity and prestige to Nigeria is unattainable. With bullish determination, and the full support of her Principal, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Oduah resolved to give the ICAO Presidency a long shot, knowing as it were, that we have in Dr Aliu, as qualified a candidate as anyone could imagine.
When the news started making the rounds that Nigeria was angling to contest the coveted position, not a few thought the Minister and Nigeria were on a fancy and wild goose chase. But there was a feeling of inevitability by Oduah in the project. Pronto, she dispatched a high-powered team made up of officials from the Ministry of Aviation and Foreign Affairs on the campaign trail. From one country to another and from one continent to the next, the team made the push for Nigeria’s candidature. As endorsement after endorsement poured in, one message the team kept bringing back was that the international aviation community was not only aware of, but also hugely encouraged by the milestones and transformation taking place back home in the nation’s aviation sector. What was more; the recent ICAO audit had listed Nigeria as one of the 14 African countries whose safety record was above the recommended global average. In addition to Dr Aliu’s personality and qualifications, this counted for much in the eyes of voting member states. If any country had a right to aspire to the Presidency of the body, especially from the African continent, that country was Nigeria, they echoed over and over again.
Sitting in that oval Council Chamber on that chilly Montreal winter afternoon of the election, you would truly be proud to be a Nigerian. Even when everyone knew that the election had literally been sealed and waiting to be delivered, there was still a huge sense of anticipation and anxiety in the air. This however quickly melted away when proceedings commenced and Representative after Representative not only endorsed Nigeria’s candidature, but also took turns to heap high praise on the personal qualifications of Dr Aliu for the job. Many spoke of his personal industry, dedication to the ideals of the organisation, ability to be a team player, team leader as well as his right sense of judgement. Others spoke on how confident they were that Dr Aliu would provide the right kind of leadership needed to propel the organisation towards the attainment of greater levels of achievements in line with its founding ideals while even more spoke of his humility, capacity and readiness for the task ahead.
Incumbent President Gonzalez capped it up when he declared how happy he was to be succeeded by the highly regarded Nigerian. And as he declared Dr Aliu duly elected by unanimous vote, the serene Ccouncil Chamber erupted into one huge clapping orchestra in welcome of the incoming President who himself was not in the hall during the election proceedings. As Council Members stood in ovation, Nigerians in the hall found themselves standing taller in awe and well-deserved glorification. It was a scene to behold as Nigeria’s ‘flag’ was literally hoisted in one of the most revered of international arenas.
President Jonathan and Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah’s self-belief in the indomitable Nigerian spirit had paid handsome dividends and leader of Nigeria’s delegation to the historic event and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Aviation, Dr George Ossi was full of thanks. “On behalf of His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Honourable Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah, the good people of Nigeria and indeed the entire people of Africa, I wish to thank you all for the support and election of Dr Aliu as the in-coming President of the Council’’, Ossi enthused, and called for further support and cooperation to the new helmsman to ensure that “ICAO as an organisation continues to promote safe, secure, efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable civil aviation globally”.
In his acceptance speech, the President –Elect, Aliu was full of gratitude to President Jonathan, Princess Oduah and the government and people of Nigeria not only for nominating him but also for “all the support and facilities put at my disposal in the process leading to this historic occasion”. Like most Nigerians, the sheer magnitude and significance of the event was not lost on the President-Elect. With the world’s eyes fully trained on him now, Aliu said he was not only ready for “this challenge” but also will do everything in his powers to justify the confidence reposed in him and keep the Nigerian flag flying at full mast before the international aviation community.
For Aviation Minister, the election is yet another significant milestone in the Transformation Agenda of the federal government in the aviation sector. The first to congratulate Aliu, President Jonathan and the people of Nigeria, Oduah described the election as a landmark event in the history of the African continent.
She added: ” The election of Dr Aliu is another historic moment for Nigeria’s aviation sector, coming shortly after the historic signing of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) with the State of Israel. I want to dedicate this victory to Mr President, who not only nominated Dr Aliu for the position, but also gave his full support for his candidature from beginning to the end. This victory would not have been possible without his full interest in Nigeria’s aspiration to lead the global aviation body. My congratulations go to him, the government and people of Nigeria and Dr Aliu himself”, the Minister declared.
Dr Aliu’s election brings to bold relief, the internal contradictions in the nation’s aviation industry and provides valuable lessons for all of us. Here is a man, the product of a sector that is roundly vilified at homebut being held up in the most respected international aviation circle as the torch bearer and symbol of Aviation excellence.
Maybe, just maybe, his election would engender the much-needed self-belief in the capabilities and possibilities that abound in the nation’s aviation sector and provide operators of the system the necessary space to actualise dreams beyond borders. To Aliu, we can only wish you a safe flight as ICAO President.
Joe Obi is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Honourable Minister of Aviation. He contributed this piece from Montreal, Canada.