Picture a beautiful wasteland, alluring and glittering to observers outside, but simply devastated and hollowed out by its supposed guardians and gatekeepers. That was the situation of the Nigerian Aviation industry only two years ago.
Entrenched concessionaires were milking the industry dry. Powerful business moguls had carved up and Balkanised the land at the key airports. Airlines, both local and international were operating without consideration for passengers rights. Even the government –owned agencies were operating as drain pipes – jobs were given and money paid without any job done. The Aviation trade unions too, were part and parcel of the Aviation gravy train. They had to get their share of the booty or else, all hell will break loose.
The stranglehold of these entrenched Gods of the Nigerian Aviation industry was too powerful.
The industry teetered on the brink of collapse. But it did not matter as long as the OverLords got their returns. Then, enters a new leader. A serious survey of this wonton pillage almost sent her back in disgust but then armed with the matching orders from a determined President who said ,’that’s why I am sending you there ,to change and transform things, Princess Stella Oduah had little choice but to heed the call to serve her fatherland. Putting the same doggedness and managerial expertise that made her a successful entrepreneur, Oduah moved to change things no matter who was involved.
Let’s take a look. A concessionaire known as Maevis Ltd was busy milking the nation of its revenue through a dubious concession agreement to collect fees at the airport for government. But journalists warned us when this shylock agreement was to be signed? Did anybody listen? Then, Oduah was bold enough to say this must stop. You cannot for example, collect N22 billion revenue at airport and tell government you only collected N5billion. So, you are doing government a favour?
Then, another business mogul, our flamboyant international businessman and presidential candidate, Chief Harry Akande took over the prime land at the nation’s major international airport—Murtala Muhammed – for over 20 years and refused to let go. He sweet talked the government that he was going to build a 5 star hotel, amusement park, rail connection that can only be described as ’American wonder’. But no dice. Zilch. He has done nothing. Oduah had to step in to once again say no,like some Aviation ministers before her had done.
The ‘lord’ Dr Wale Babalakin, and his company, Bi Courtney Ltd got the concession to build, operate and transfer the domestic terminal known as MMIA2. After the construction, he unilaterally put a price tag of 36 Billion naira and adjusted the tenure from 12 years to 36 years. He says no other airport must be developed in Lagos because of that terminal—even when the number of Nigerian travellers are growing by the day and the demand for more capacity at the airport is mounting! In addition to the MMIA2 terminal, he also sweet talked government for rights to build a 4-star Hotel and conference centre near the MMIA2 in 2 years. But 12 years down the road, it is only snakes, lizards, all sorts of dangerous reptiles and creatures that hold meetings at these locations! Yet Oduah must turn a blind eye or else face their wrath!
The rot is extensive though. Some so-called Nigerian Airline Operators operated without license!
An example is one Captain Omale. They operate from their living rooms with no maintenance engineers and hide under the cloak of “foreign registered” aircraft to evade, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA monitoring—at the risk of lives of Nigerians and foreigners. Oduah should say or do nothing? I am naming them so that the reader would know that this is not fiction. This is hard reality.
Or take another Aviation figure, Mohammed Tukur who claims to be assistant secretary of Nigerian Airline Operators, AON. Matter of fact, Tukur’s last known employment in the industry was over 12 years ago when he worked with Afrijet Airlines. The business collapsed over 10 years ago. But Tukur is still in the industry claiming to represent unknown operators. To survive he is at the beck and call of those who need anarchists and thugs to do their dirty jobs. By the way, Tukur cannot even speak English! Whenever he opens his mouth, even his sponsors close their face in shame.
There are operators such as Chachangi & IRS airlines who flout aviation safety laws by flying one aircraft, as against the minimum of three as prescribed in our statutes. They were boldly stopped to avert the imminent catastrophe. The son of Chanchangi is the Deputy Chairman of the House of Reps committee on Aviation! Or take our friend, Captain Mohammed Joji, his company, AOC has 30 aircraft but lacks prerequisite qualification and expertise to maintain them. Each aircraft comes with foreign crew and which deprives Nigerians of employment. He hawks his license for $10,000 per aircraft per month. Apart from the Mallam Joji, there are very wealthy and vocal Nigerians who bring in foreign registered private jets and illegally operate commercial flights. This “kabukabu” practice is unsafe, leaves our air space porous and robs government of good source of revenue. Should Oduah sit hands akimbo and be watching them? I say No! Joji was the Managing Director of the ill fated Nigerian Airways which he ran underground, and has not been able to account 19 billion naira intervention fund he received.
The N16Billion Aviation Intervention Fund is another glaring evidence of decadence in our sector. One domestic airplane operators who were supposed to be helped to purchase good aircraft and service them, diverted the Intervention Fund on Aviation into personal estates without putting a kobo into the system! Yet Oduah is supposed to ‘siddon look.’ As you know the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC is still prosecuting some powerful people on this. They want to blame it on Oduah. too. Arik air, owned by another Aviation bigwig, Aruruemi-Akhide, is notorious for collecting airport charges from passengers on behalf of the aviation agencies (FAAN,NAMA etc) and refusing to remit same. They decide when and how much to pay – flaunting their Aso Rock and National Assembly connections to intimidate officials of the Aviation agencies. Their reputation for indebtedness is unrivalled – Aik owes agencies over 20 billion naira! Not long ago, the Honourable minister, Stella Oduah shut down their operations and insisted on compliance!
There are also the politicians in the opposition who are taken aback by the new dawn in transformation which must be shredded. There are also the female phobia – men who cannot accept a woman boldly and convincingly matching on with the transformation. Interestingly, there are also her colleagues in the same cabinet who are threatened by her towering achievements. They fear the awesome capacity of Neighbour-to-Neigbour, her NGO that played key role in the election of the President.
Do you now see why these people are fighting back? Doing everything possible to tarnish the good image of the minister and oust her from office. That is their goal. They have all vowed to get her out of the Aviation ministry and industry by all means—fair, foul and dirty!
Is it therefore a surprise that these powerful forces have lined up journalists, media houses, thugs, unionists, commentators and even rented crowds of village women to put pressure on government? Please go and ask any worker at the aviation agencies how much revenue they have collected on behalf of government since Oduah sent the shylocks—Maevis packing from the airports. You will be amazed. This revenue is recorded and paid straight to government coffers! They are of course, not happy. Oduah must go! It is Oduahgate, Oduahbus, Oduahthat, whatever nonsense they come up with. It is not about armoured cars. It is about their personal interest. The big money they are daily milking from Nigerians and Nigeria.
Let’s think again. Whose campaign is the so-called Oduahgate? Is it of Nigerians or that of these selfish shylock businessmen?
Gabriel Nsikak, a public commentator writes from Lagos