· Aviation agencies not pre-enacted for merger
· Diverse opinions trail Aviation Agencies’ management relocation
By Kenneth Jukpor & Ayoola Olaitan
The leadership of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has been nursing fears over the N65 billion unpaid revenue remittances as the COVID-19 pandemic stalls ongoing investigation by the House of Representatives.
FAAN has been clouded in uncertainty over the allegation of missing funds, which is another dent on the Federal Government’s agenda to enhance accountability and transparency in improving the nation’s economy.
Although aviation experts have been unwilling to speak on the issue prior to the investigation by the legislature, most stakeholders have expressed dissatisfaction at the impunity and lack of accountability which characterizes government agencies.
FAAN misconduct was uncovered by the House of Representatives Committee on Finance in February, with over N65 billion unpaid revenue remittances from 2014 – 2019 to the Federal Government account.
When quizzed on this, aviation expert and Chief Executive Officer, Belujane Konzult, Mr. Chris Aligbe expressed regret on such development in the aviation industry.
The former image maker of the defunct Nigerian Airways, however, opined that comments on the issue would be better articulated after the findings of the House of Representatives.
MMS Plus reached the General Manager, Corporate Affairs, FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, to get the agency’s explanation on the unremitted funds, but she declined commenting.
According to her, the Managing Director of FAAN, Mallam Rabiu Hamisau Yadudu was better positioned to respond on the issue; hence all inquiries on the subject should be forwarded directly to the Managing Director.
Recall that the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Abiodun Faleke, revealed this missing sum during a public hearing with the FAAN Managing Director, Rabiu Yadudu.
According to Faleke “Between 2014 and 2019 the government, by our law, should have earned N74.663 billion from FAAN but what was earned was just N9 billion. You are part of the system that underpaid the government.”
The committee chairman noted that what the federal government borrowed to finance the agency’s budget was “not up to the amount under remitted.”
“You did not build new airports; even if you had built new airports, you do not have the authority to spend that money. You have to seek the approval of the National Assembly,” he said.
He further said that “We expect all original receipts from 2014 to 2019 for your remittances; the list of invoices you issued to your customers and the value; the reason for the difference between your remittance and the actual collection; your internal auditor’s report; comprehensive details of contracts awards from 2014 till date showing tax deducted and the original treasury receipts of those remittances, and your bank statements for First Bank and Zenith Bank and any other bank.”
In another development, there are indications that heads of aviation agencies in Nigeria may not meet the 45 days deadline for relocating to Abuja.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika had issued 45days ultimatum for the helmsmen and directors at the respective air travel agencies on May 15, 2020.
With this directive, the headquarters of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET), are expected to relocate within the given time frame.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the affected officials have pointed out the travel restriction and heath concerns as limiting factors.
While the government’s decision is targeted towards cutting the cost of governance, the opportunities in new media highlighted during the lockdown negate such claims.
Several multinational organizations held meetings with managerial officials across various countries using various online platforms and the Federal Government also adopted such innovation with online meetings with governors as well as an online Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.
In an exclusive interview with MMS Plus, the Director, Press and Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, Mr. James Odaudu observed that there was sufficient time for the affected officials to comply.
However, he opined that compliance could be hindered with the restrictions of movement caused by the inter-state travel ban amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The directive is not a new one because it was given in 2008 and 2012. Now that the directive has come during the pandemic period one would not be too sure if the compliance will be total or partial. I also can’t tell if the 45 days ultimatum would be extended,” he said.
He maintained that the decision to move the agencies headquarters to Abuja would help cut the cost of governance.
According to him, “Abuja is the center of government and the Minister might want to meet with the heads of the agencies and there will be need to summon them from Lagos. Decisions might need to be taken and will just need them not to come from Lagos so the government is cutting cost of governance those who are essential will have to relocate.”
On the possibility of merging the aviation agencies, Odaudu opined that the distinct roles of the various agencies may not support optimal operations after a merger
“The issue of merging is a decision that will be taken by the government. However, I’m not sure if any of the agencies in the industry was pre-enacted for merger. The government’s idea is to reduce the cost of governance because none of the agencies are performing same function,” he added.
Meanwhile, the General Manager, Public Relations, NCAA, Mr. Samuel Adurogboye said; “We have already started moving in batches as some officials are already in Abuja. Since the seat of government is in Abuja then all agencies must be there. NCAA Director General is already in Abuja and circular has been sent out so we are making efforts to be there”.
Although agencies have until the end of June to relocate, the decision to move to Abuja has raised varying interpretations with criticisms as well as endorsement from industry observers.
Chris Aligbe commended the move, noting that there have been numerous complaints over time as a result of frequent trips to Abuja by the CEO’s and Directors to resolve issues.
His words: “If they are in Abuja that cost will be reduced, the logistics cost is quite high so the movement is commendable to cut cost. Most times, when you go to their offices you don’t find them because they need to attend to something in Abuja.”
“Some of the agencies asked to move are already in Abuja like NCAA. However, for operational issues like those in charge of airworthiness, they have to remain in Lagos. The truth remains that the agencies are government parastatals, the government will tell them to move when they want them to and they must comply. So, there is no big deal about it”.
Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative and Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Securities, Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd) argued that the relocation of aviation agencies would allow the operational officers carry out their duties without frivolous interference by their superiors in the directorate cadre.
“I support the relocation of the headquarters because it would allow the man in charge of the airport to operate independently. The operators are not moving, it is the headquarters and this is where government policies are been translated into regulations for the operators.”
“Most people are worried about this relocation negatively because Murtala Muhammed Airport is the cash cow of the aviation industry. If you are too close to the man you put in charge of operations, he will be helpless and keep running to you for every little thing. There will be no room for him to take key decisions,” he said.
He pointed out that he started advocating for such relocation in 2006, writing to the Presidential committee during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration that the agencies should be moved closer to the ministry in Abuja.
According to the former Commandant of MMA, Lagos, the proposed concessioning of the airports would see the agencies have little or no reason to have their headquarters in Lagos.
“We have a situation where an Airport manager can’t take key decisions regarding development of the airport. There is need to seat down and look out on how to grow, for me this relocation of the agencies headquarters to Abuja is a step in the right direction. The airports managers are not even known because for every issue at the airport, people go to the PRO or the Director of Airport Operations,” he added.
Contrarily, the President of League of Maritime Editors and Publishers (LOMEP), Mr. Kingsley Anaroke argued that the claim of high logistics cost does not hold water because they have not presented the bills for comparative analysis.
He said: “For a logical conclusion, we expect that the Minister should present a cost, at worst, an estimate of what it cost the agencies to run logistics between Lagos and Abuja yearly. We all know the decision is political. Technology has provided the opportunity for the aviation industry to equally operate smartly, therefore, why can’t the Minister direct the agencies to cut cost by leveraging virtual meetings and online real-time official transactions in the ministry for optimal performance?”