Relocation directive: Real reasons aviation agencies’ chiefs dared Minister
•Easy money, contracts, political influence behind delayed movement –Experts
8th June 2020
A memo emanating from the Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, dated May 4, 2020 and addressed to all the heads of the agencies and parastatals under his purview, directing them to relocate their corporate headquarters to the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, 45 days from date of issuance, didn’t completely take stakeholders by surprise. What perhaps is of concern to some stakeholders is why some directors and agency heads are resisting a policy that was intended to cut cost of governance yo indeed help engender better and efficient supervision of the nation’s aviation industry.
Industry insiders who had followed the relocation drama since 2012 told Daily Sun that a similar memo issued the aviation agencies about eight years ago under the government of president Goodluck Jonathan suffered the same fate as none of the agencies affected sees any reason to comply with the ministerial directive.
Should the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) agree to relocate within 45 days from the date of issuance of the memo, aviation minister hopes to get a better handle in their supervision and administration in a way the could save the federal government a reasonable revenue and cut avoidable waste of resources.
In the memo with reference number, FMA/PMD/7061/T/4 signed on behalf of the Minister of Aviation by the Director, Human Resource Manager, Muhammad Shehu, the supervising minister said the objective is to enable the Federal Government reduce cost of governance given prevailing global economy situation caused by the Coronavirus pandemic
The letter titled: Relocation of Aviation Agencies to Abuja read: “ I am directed to remind you of a Presidential directive issued in 2012 requesting all the agencies under the Ministry of Aviation to relocate their corporate headquarters to the Federal Capital Territory ( Abuja ) for efficient and effective coordination and enhanced service delivery and note that eight (8) years after the directive, the agencies are yet to comply.
“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 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.”
This directive came after insinuations that NAMA, NCAA and the Nigerian Metrological Agency (NiMET) may be merged into a new body known as the Federal Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA) should the Buhari administration implement the recommendations of the 800-page Stephen Oransaye report.
But mixed reactions have continued to trail the ministerial directive with some stakeholders saying it was long overdue, while others insisting it would be counter-productive given the cost high implications which may eventually fall back on the flying public.
Those opposed to the relocation order cited the fact that the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) which has provided bailouts to the country and generates more revenue than all the aviation agencies does not have its headquarters in Abuja. They also cited the Department of Petroleum Resources, the regulator of the oil and gas sector as well as the NIMASA which regulates the maritime industry both have their headquarters in Lagos.
Lagos is undoubtedly the hub of Nigeria’s aviation industry and if the costs benefit analysis is to be considered, they argue it will be cost effective to let the agencies remain in Lagos than move to Abuja.
For those in support of relocation, having all the agencies in Abuja would enhance easy and seamless administration and also cut down on the cost that heads of agencies rack up anytime they travel from Lagos to Abuja, which is usually frequent. This includes the cost of accommodation, transportation and other logistics that heads of agencies incur on their weekly trips to Abuja to have audience with the minister.
In the short term, experts say heads of the agencies can be moved immediately and in the medium term, which may be in the next three or four years, the directors can be relocated, while for the long term planning, the General Managers and other lower cadre staff can then be moved. But implementing this directive in the face of the dwindling revenue in the sector, coupled with the negative impact of COVID-19 on the air travel business looks much like a tall order.
According to the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) the cost of relocation is not a component of 2020 approved budget and therefore advised the ministry to resort to virtual meetings rather than have heads of agencies travel every week to the FCT as they often do.
The union had written to Sirika, advising him to adopt a more realistic and honest approach to the relocation order to agencies in the Ministry warning that complying with the directive is fraught with economic landmines, health hazards and undue risks while advising that adopting virtual meetings platforms may be the way out to achieve better efficiency.
The union’s letter to the Minister dated May 15, 2020 with ref: NUATE GS/HMS/ENP/004-20 signed by the General Secretary Ocheme Aba and copied the Chairman Senate Committee on Aviation, Chairman House Committee on Aviation and the Managing Directors, Director General and Commissioner, FAAN, NAMA, NCAA and AIB, read in part “It should be of interest to know why the directive has yet to be carried out till date. It was because the cost implication was determined and found exceedingly prohibitive and there was no source of revenue that could accommodate such unforeseen expenditure… as far as we can tell, nothing has changed for the better. If anything, the cost implication is bound to have worsened significantly.
“As far as we know, none of the agencies have a relocation component in the 2020 approved budget. It would be impossible to contemplate such huge expenditure as extra budgetary spending not to mention the impracticality of raising such funds in the current economy with over 90percent loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The union lamented that most of the agencies in question, presently owe staff transfer allowances for upwards of 12 months and wondered how an agency unable to pay transfer allowance for a few months can afford to relocate its headquarters and personnel without extra -budgetary allocation.
“Important among them is the exemption granted the maritime and aviation agencies from the relocation order by the Obasanjo regime. This was to prevent severe dislocation between the agencies and their primary constituents, which were and still are, congregated around their operational bases in Lagos. We are confident that the huge financial implication to airlines and other end users of the services of these agencies established in Lagos would become too humongous to contemplate,” it said. The union stated that it understood the intention of government to cut cost of governance through the relocation but observed that the chunk of the reduction is to be realised from savings from heads of agencies’ frequent trips to Abuja to answer the Minister’s calls.
“ …But most believe, ourselves included, that these frequent calls are really unnecessary and actually amount to undue distraction and interference from the Ministry. Besides as the COVID-19 has taught us, virtual meetings have become the order of the day. This can be a veritable resort to the Ministry to save the severe headache orchestrated by the present disconcerting relocation order to agencies.”
Aviation expert and principal partner, Etimfri group, Amos Akpan, pointed out that with regard to business activities in the aviation industry, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt are busier than Abuja and with modern technology, the industry can be managed from any location by internet, and video conferencing since scanned documents, emails, and text messages are now admissible legal documents. He also argued that the directive amounted to an expensive policy to implement at a time normal scheduled flights into Abuja would have barely started before the 45 days deadline hence his cautions on government to be careful never to dislocate structure that gave the International Civil Aviation Ogranisation (ICAO) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the confidence to rate Nigeria CAT1.
“By my observation, the heads of aviation agencies spent more work hours in Abuja (about four 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, and video conferencing scanned documents, emails and text messages are now admissible legal documents.
According to him, regions and stations with heavy concentration of aviation activities must be enabled to take instant decisions and give feedback to the centre.The aviation industry does not tolerate bureaucratic delays as maintenance infrastructure for aircraft handling and service equipment are concentrated in Lagos. To allow the equipment fix back into operation, a representative of DAWS must be authorised 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.
“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.
“Finally, this policy originated before this government and there is a reason it was stalled. There is a reason this government resurrected it. It is wise to watch events unfold so we get a clearer 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,” Akpan said.
However a seasoned aviation security expert, Captain John Ojikutu, said the minister’s directive is the right thing to do as it would separate airports operations management from the executive. He told Daily Sun that airports management earns money but alleges that the executives spend the monies through contracts why is the airports, including the major ones are deficient in critical safety infrastructure and systems.
“I have not just been in the support, I began to so suggest it way back in 2006 because that is the right thing to do to separate the airports operations management from the executives. The airports management earns money but the executives spend the monies through contracts. That explains why the airports including the major ones are deficient in critical safety infrastructure and systems and you can’t hold the airports managers responsible when things go wrong in the airports. The movement must relocate them to Abuja airport because after Lagos, Abuja is the next fattest cow cash.
“There is nothing wrong and that is the practice globally. The US FAA, NTSB; UK CAA, and Airport Authority, Headquarters are located in their countries capitals so are those of Ghana, SA, Egypt, Kenya and Rwanda. It’s been long overdue. I said so in 2006 that the movements of the CEOs to and from Abuja need to be curtailed. The headquarters don’t make money, they spend money. Let management of the operations that make the money, have self actualisation in the management of the infrastructure and resources. It is bad management if MMA that makes close to N5bn monthly cannot spend 1percent of its earnings on the maintenance of the infrastructure of its operations. Let this movement be the beginning of devolution of power on the airports management. In other climes, 10 percent is allowed,” Ojikutu said.
Daily Sun gathered that AIB which has the smallest work force and has an office in Abuja may be the first to relocate, while FAAN and NAMA would relocate in batches but would have an annex in Lagos. A reliable source also told Daily Sun that NCAA is making concerted efforts to move but that their technical
“By the way, what happens if the airports are eventually given for concession? Would anyone still bother where the FAAN headquarters is located? Many have forgotten that FAAN’s headquarters was burnt few years ago and there were plans to bring the whole structure down for reconstruction. That was put on hold because of the plan for this same movement to Abuja which was planned then.
“They will improvise; not all will move at the same time. I am aware that an office had been created for most of the CEOs in Abuja many years before now. Movement could be in phases; first, directors and GMs, later, the DGMs and finally the Asst GMs. What you call massive office structure could become a part of the staff quarters, an Airport Shopping Mall or hotels. FAAN and NAMA are not government agencies like AIB and NCAA but public agencies and service providers that earn revenues from the services they provide; that is why the clamour for the concession or commercialisation of their services through the PPP to make their operations and earnings transparent to the public. A source within NAMA who wished to remain anonymous told Daily Sun that the movement to Abuja would be gradual and done in batches although no movement has been done so far. “There has been no movement to Abuja to the best of my knowledge but whatever the case, the movement would be done gradually and in batches. I doubt if the movement would be completed this week. We do not have a huge space in Abuja, what we have is a liaison office in town and it is too small to accommodate a directorate,” the source said
Relocation directive: Real reasons aviation agencies’ chiefs dared Minister