Task Before New Aviation Minister
Osita Chidoka, Nigeria’s new Minister of Aviation who was sworn in on Wednesday by President Goodluck Jonathan, has no experience in the aviation industry, but will have to learn fast and listen more to professionals if he desires to succeed. He would need to urgently tackle some very pressing challenges bedevilling the aviation industry, including rampant corruption.
Chidoka replaces Stella Oduah who was relieved of her duties in February this year following series of corruption scandals, two major plane crashes, many deaths, and a complete loss of confidence in the sector by the Nigerian flying public.
As a former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Chidoka should use his experience in safety matters and put safety first in the aviation industry. He can only do that if the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and other agencies in the sector are truly independent and are allowed to focus on their duties.
The former Minister of Aviation was accused of usurping the powers of the agencies’ heads and even compelling some of them to buy her expensive BMW cars instead of focusing on aviation matters. Chidoka should avoid that pitfall. He should restore the independence of the NCAA, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB and other agencies in the sector.
Chidoka should immediately lift the ban placed on aviation heads against issuing statements in the media or conducting interviews without the approval from the Minister of Aviation. He should discard the office of Coordinating General Manager (Communication) of the Aviation Parastatals and allow more transparency in the agencies.
The new Aviation Minister should stay away from jungle justice that overshadowed some of the achievements recorded by the last administration. He should honour agreements signed by former administrations or review them through legal means instead of resorting to physical fights as it was the case when Oduah was there.
His focus should be training and retraining of aging staff in virtually all the aviation agencies. He should use all the money budgeted for his ministry to ensure that aviators are well trained and the Nigerian skies are safe again.
Chidoka should also investigate issues relating to billions of debts left by Oduah for projects that have not even started. He should run a transparent administration, review through legal means all the bad contracts and expose those who have enriched themselves at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayers.
He should continue with the renovation of the Nigerian airports as started by Oduah but he should make it transparent and ensure that the job is up to international standard.
More importantly, Chidoka would need to ensure that the names of the aviation heads appointed after Oduah was sacked, are forwarded to the National Assembly for confirmation.He should not allow people to work in acting capacity indefinitely while those who have been appointed wait to take their job. This is the case at the NCAA where Usman Mukhtar who was removed from the AIB and appointed as NCAA Director General has been waiting for confirmation for months.
Chidoka would also need to address other issues regarding passengers’ rights, labour matters as well as carry the unions’ leaders along. In the end, Chidoka would need to be open minded and press-friendly instead of persecuting some journalists. He would need to listen to friends and critics to have a full grasp of happenings in the sector.
Above all, Chidoka’s litmus test will come in September. He should ensure that Nigeria does not lose its coveted FAA Category 1 Safety Certification which has allowed Nigerian airlines and crew to fly directly to the United States. If the new aviation boss does all these things, he would make a great impact on the aviation industry. If he does not, he may go the same way as others before him: derided and unsung.