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Saturday, 10 February 2024 08:57

[OPINION] Sirika, drowning wings and the rest of us - Anthony Kila

Dear Mr, Festus Keyamo, 

Our epistle is today addressed to you as a contact point because our object of reflection is aviation, in reality though, the content of our considerations affects all of us citizens, operators, regulators and consumers of the aviation sector of Nigeria. They are considerations about a sector that was conceived to make all fly but in Nigeria it has the knack of making the most prominent drown. 


I invite you to think of and read about the rise and fall of many Nigerian airlines and allied companies in the sector to get a feel of the gist here. 


Let us start from the personal. Well over two decades ago, my son who is now a computer scientist but seems more interested in making money than computerising the world, expressed a desire to become a pilot, and many in my family expressed their concerns about the dangers of flying and the concern each of his flight would give the family. 


Amazingly, my late papa, an economist turned accountant and practicing auditor who had spent over four decades in aviation, simply quipped that “the real endangerments in aviation come from the offices and management not in the sky…”. He was a man that firmly believed that “accidents in aviation are planned and achieved via bad management and negligence of the rules of aviation”. 


Whilst still on a personal note, let me invite you, Honourable Minister, to consider that the most noticeable of your predecessors in the ministry of aviation you head today are noted in the industry not for their contributions but for their troubles with the law. Messer Femi Fani-Kayode and Stella Odua are two names that should suffice to making this point clear to all within and beyond the aviation community. 


Your immediate predecessor has not disappointed those expecting the wings of aviation to drown many. Former Minister Hadi Sirika is a man who lately tweets about Islamic teaching, in Hausa, and copiously quotes the Quran. Before then however, he was a man who about 20 days before leaving office got the Federal Executive Council to approve over half a million dollars for the engagement of consultants for the master plan of airports, then about three days before leaving office he launched an airline that had no plane and Air Operator Certificate to operate. 

Like the children of his generation that believe that packaging is everything and that the “why” trumps the “what”, the then minister and his team hurriedly arranged an Ethiopian Airlines plane draped with the logo of “Nigeria Air”, and made it fly to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, a few hours to the end of his tenure in office. The logo of “Nigeria Air” was first unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in the United Kingdom, we were told then that the project was expected to cost $8.8 million in preliminary cost and $300 million as take-off cost.

Readers of this page will remember me saying that the “Nigeria Air” so dear to the minister was “conceived on PowerPoint, presented in PDF and will die on twitter”. The project was suspended two months later….

When the “Nigeria Air” fantasy reared its head, or shall we say logo, again in May 2023, we, on this page, called for an independent public inquiry that will allow all those involved and interested to give and get a clear, detailed and final understanding of the process, negotiations, partnerships, expenses, and parties involved in the “Nigeria Air” project. It is now close to a year since then and we are still waiting. 

As if to respect the tradition of notable ministers of aviation in Nigeria, former Minister Hadi Sirika has returned to people’s mind because the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is having conversations with his brother over contracts awarded by aviation ministry and have frozen an account with over N8 billion, please note that given the rate of the naira to the dollar when the money got into the account, the frozen funds must have been nothing less than 10 million dollars then. The former minister’s brother is a deputy director in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.

As citizens respectful of the law, we must assume all are innocent until proven guilty and we must give the minister and his brother the space and the right to explain and defend themselves in a clear, detailed and final way on why a civil servant will be getting millions of dollars worth of contracts awarded by a ministry headed by his own brother, what happened to the contracts and the source of the money in the account. All those are criminal matters and we can leave such to the EFCC and the courts to deal with. 

We must however remind the operatives of the EFCC from investigators to prosecutors to make sure they have a clear, tight and convincing case. Sensationalism will lead us nowhere, what we desperately need are more looted funds refunded and paths to future looting blocked. 

The rest of us however need to look at the political, institutional and financial elements of the aviation industry. You, Hon Minister, need to call and promise yourself not to follow the tradition of the noted ones that came before you, yes, a promise to be good is not enough but it gives you a vision to follow. Operators in the aviation sector need to find a way to ensure that no one is allowed to abuse office, disrupt plans and hinder the many progress that the aviation industry can bring to our economy and country. 

No minister can manage or mismanage the aviation sector alone, those around the office of the former minister too should be looked at and those around the current minister should look at themselves.

Outside government, operators in the private sector need to find their voices, before that, they even need to discover or rediscover their worth and consequence in the country’s economy as a whole and in the aviation sector in particular. A well organised, invested, committed and self-regulated private sector that strives for excellence can and should take the lead in aviation, treat regulators as guests not as owners, so that the wings of aviation will make all fly not drown. 

Join me on Twitter: @anthonykila, to continue these conversations. 

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