By Okuneye Moyosola
Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd) is a former Commandant of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. He also is the Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative and Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Securities. In this interview with MMS Plus, he bares his mind on the role of leadership in moving the aviation sector forward. He also talks about how airport infrastructural deficit could be addressed. Enjoy it:
How can we address the numerous challenges facing the aviation sector?
There have been lots of challenges in the sector. From 1990 to 1994 that I worked at the airport, there was nothing that is happening now that didn’t happen then. Let’s talk about leadership rather than talking about the government. I hate to use the word government but I like talking about leadership. When I talk about leadership, I am not referring to the president alone, leadership is at every level. One of the challenges that we have in the aviation sector is that we don’t retain the good hands. When politics came in; we started bringing people from the outside and we slot them in without giving them adequate training.
I don’t mind if you bring people from outside into the system but you have to give them adequate training. Let them have the necessary skills. However, when you use political reasons to bring people from outside that don’t have the knowledge and skills, then the system will collapse. This is what we are having now.
The same thing happened with the operators too. They were a lot of challenges with the older airlines too. They were using old aircrafts, but they made money. Government never killed any of these airlines, they killed themselves. They came in, made money and went away. The people who didn’t know how the system worked were using the business plans of those that left and it didn’t fit into their own system. When they started having problems, they called on government to help them. What they need from government is money but if you cannot manage the men and the equipment that you have, no matter the amount of money you get, it will be a waste. If you don’t have skilled personnel in sufficient number, then you are going to have problems. That is what is happening everywhere and nobody will argue with me that we have gone over that.
It is not about telling me that you have 20 aircrafts and all of them are new. What about the operators? My take is that if we buy something of 100 naira, we should spend at least 10 naira to train people that we want to hand over that thing to. Corporate management tells us that a minimum of 10% of what you install should go for the training of the manpower that will operate the equipment. If you can’t do that, then there will be problems. The challenges that majority of the agencies are facing is lack of skilled man power. If you go outside to go and bring people at the middle management level, then that is a sharp knife on the system.
How do you think we can address the issue of infrastructural deficit at Nigerian airports?
I know so many people say that this is the fault of the government but the government has nothing to do with this. People make it seem like government is one person. From 1966 till today, we have changed leadership several times. We are to blame for this. The government has created money for the infrastructure. Those in charge have lavished as much as they can and we are left with the leftovers.
You want to build a house and after you collected the money to build the house, why make use of substandard materials? If the house collapses, would you blame the person that gave you the money or blame yourself for using substandard materials? I know of a case where a Chief Executive signed for a project of radar in April for a year, and in July of that same year, he changed it. He left and someone else came in and that person changed it. It was when the fourth person came and wanted to change it that we intervened. That is why the issue of the radar is the way it is. That is why I said you can’t blame the government; it is the people that are there that manipulate these things unilaterally to exploit the benefits.
Sir, with these challenges of bureaucracy and bad leaders, do you think the concessioning of the airport is a viable option?
I am in full support of airport concessioning. In fact, I can say emphatically that except we concession the airports, we can’t make progress. However, we must find the value of the airport before concessioning it. We don’t know the estimated value of our airports. If we know the estimated value, then we would know how much to concession it. We would know how much improvement should be made every five or ten years based on the policy available. So the government must create a good policy. If we want to concession our airports, we must be able to draw out a development plan for the concessionaires and I am not sure we have done that. There are Nigerians outside that are investing. A Nigerian invested in Gatwick and other airports. Why can’t they come to this country to invest? It is because or hands are not clean. We haven’t made the environment suitable for such investments.
It was a Nigerian that built MMA2 and he didn’t collect any money from the government, yet they are still giving him pressure till today. He cannot complete all the projects he started in front of the airport because of several issues. Kabo Air is dead but Okada is still alive. ADC airline behaved the way Nigerian airways behaved. It should have been one of the best airlines. In 1992, ADC was carrying about 25, 000 passengers in a month with about three or four aircrafts. Unfortunately, they decided to behave the way their brothers and sisters at Nigerian airways were behaving.
There have been several arguments for and against the need for a distinct Ministry of Aviation. What is your opinion about this?
Every department is not working effectively because of the ministers and there is too much of political interference everywhere. If we have Minister of Transport, what assurance do you have that they would not interfere with the aviation agencies? There have had the Ministers of transport and department of aviation before but they still interfered. Why? They are making a lot of money. They are cash cows.
I know Ministers who collect money from the departments when they are going on tours. The agencies will be complaining. If the Minister is travelling and he gets to the airport, all the agencies will follow him. It doesn’t matter whether it has to do with aviation or not. That is why we have to find a way to dislodge all these politics.
The Ministries are supposed to restrict themselves to policy and guidelines for the regulation. We have to draw out policy guideline for the regulation and set up an agency for regulation. The agency for regulation in aviation is the NCAA. Our regulators have to be effective. They are not effective because their responsibility has been taken over by the Ministry. These are the unilateral exploitation of the system and except we do away with it, we can’t move forward. That is also why I’m emphasizing on airport concessioning but the regulators have to ensure that both parties involved in the concession agreement are fulfilling their duties.
How did you get into the aviation sector?
I was in the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and I was trained as an Air Traffic Controller. When I left, I proceeded to study a course on aviation security. My first experience in aviation was at Murtala Muhammed Airport. I served there for 26 years and I was in charge of MMA’s security for four years. I took interest in the security of the airport and I had connection with almost all the airlines. That gave me knowledge of what the civil aviation is all about. I have also done consultancy for Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in aviation security. I have also one consultancy for Rwanda Civil Aviation through IATA. IATA employed some us to help put their aviation security in order.