Mr. Basil Agboarumi is the General Manager, Corporate Communications at Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL). In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus he reveals how the ongoing rehabilitation of the Abuja airport has affected the company’s business. He also explains how the company has adjusted to the economic recession and the difficulty in assessing forex. Basil also narrates his journey into Public Relations.
Can you give an appraisal of aviation business in Nigeria especially with the current economic recession?
Aviation is big; the regulators may have their peculiar challenges which may vary from the airport operators, the airspace managers and the airlines could also have various challenges. The ground handling companies also have their challenges and we have other services within aviation. However, SAHCOL is a ground handling company with challenges. Aviation is an entire body made up of several parties that we highlighted earlier; hence, there could equally be challenges that could affect the entire body.
SAHCOL is not separated from the country especially with the ongoing economic recession that nation is facing. As a result, our business has been affected by these financial challenges. As a ground handling company, we provide services for airlines in terms of passengers, cargo and ground handling services, warehousing of goods, etc, so, the reduction in passenger and cargo movement via the airlines affects our business.
Recently, some airlines pulled out of the country as a result of the recession and this has also affected our business because we provided the ground handling services for them. As an organization, our income is reduced as a result of this shortage in patronage. The cost of forex has also made many importers reduce the volume of their imports while several others stopped importing entirely and this affected the company’s activities and earnings.
How has the forex challenges affected the company’s business?
Everything in the country has increased and this is determined to a large extent by the challenges the country is facing with regards to forex. It has affected SAHCOL very much. For example, we have a warehouse that requires 3,000KVA generators to power the facility. Electricity is not available most times and we have cold-rooms that require power. The cost of diesel has increased but we have to ensure power supply is available to continue our business. We spend more to do our business as a result of the inflation, yet the volume of cargo we receive has gone down drastically and our revenue has decreased.
Are you downsizing, what measures have SAHCOL taken to be able to survive these tough economic times?
We are still not downsizing. We believe that things would change positively very soon. The hard times will pass. Remember the hard times never last but it is the tough people that survive such times and have cause to smile after all the challenges.
The volume of cargo has dropped drastically and as an import dependent nation, Nigeria has suffered significantly. Export is what brings foreign exchange into a country but Nigeria only imports and consumes. Our major export is crude oil. So, the drop in global crude oil prices in recent times added to the nation’s economic woes.
However, export is growing; the crude oil prices are increasing while people are beginning to see the importance of export. Until recent times, the export places at the port have been like an empty field but it is coming up at the moment.
Agents have been complaining about increase in your charges. Who is responsible for regulating these charges?
That is not true because we haven’t increased our charges despite the increase in cost of operations and the decline in cargo and passenger traffic. The rate of inflation and recession should have led us to increase our charges, however we have not done that.
How have the ongoing infrastructural airport reforms such as the Abuja railway affected your business?
We do more of our business with airlines. For example, the airlines only have to divert their planes from Abuja to Kaduna and move their staff down to Kaduna too. However, it is more difficult for us because we don’t just move staff, we move very heavy equipments. We had to deploy some vehicles to move these equipments from Lagos to Abuja and from Abuja to Kaduna. You can imagine the cost of moving these items. We had to rent cranes to load these equipments in Lagos and rent cranes to offload them in Abuja. Remember the planes are not stationed in one place, the airlines only had to change their route but we suffered the losses.
We ought to transfer the cost of moving these items to the government because it is their responsibility to fix the runways. We moved our staff from Abuja to Kaduna; they have to stay in hotels and their feeding and wellbeing is catered for by the company because it is like a special assignment for them. We expect that somebody in the government to see this and refund some of the monies spent.
How did we get to such stage of dilapidated airport infrastructure? Is there something that should have been done earlier or differently to manage this scenario?
We have made a lot of mistakes in this industry in the past; but a wise person changes his route the moment he or she realizes that he or she has been on the wrong path. The state of the nation’s aircraft has been a national embarrassment so what is important is that long anticipated infrastructural reforms have stated. Kaduna is operational and the Abuja runway repairs have already lasted more than three weeks out of the stipulated six weeks. While this development has led airlines to jettison Kaduna airport, other airlines have equally approached SAHCOL to carry out their handling services so we have also been very busy in Kaduna at the moment.
How long have you been the image maker of SAHCOL and how did you venture into Public Relations (PR)?
My career as a PR practitioner started several years ago. I actually read Mass Communication with special interest for Public Relations. I started to practice Public Relations when I was in school. I did my Industrial Training in the PR unit of the Nigeria Airways when we had people like Mr. Chris Alegbe, who remains my idol when it comes to Public Relations. I had the opportunity to work under him. I recall that during my first four months I.T at the Nigerian Airways, the PR department had a desk at the check-in counter at the Airport and Alegbe put me on that desk. So, I had to collect daily reports for the airways. When I returned for my one year I.T, I continued to work with them. That was how I fell in love with PR and got baptized into it at the Nigerian Airways as far back as 1991.
SAHCOL was actually carved out of the ashes of the Nigerian Airways. In 1996, the ground operations aspect of the Nigerian Airways was separated and this led to the birth of SAHCOL. At that time, I had finished my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and I had gotten so much grip of the profession. I ate, slept and dreamt of public relations. I read books like Sam Black from cover to cover and I pictured everything about life from a PR perspective.
When SAHCOL needed a PR department, nobody wanted to leave the Nigerian Airways for SAHCOL but Mr. Alegbe called me and asked me to do it. Prior to that time, there was an assignment that the General Manager of SAHCOL, Dr. Oluropo Owolabi wanted done; he gave me the job and he was so impressed with the way I handled it. He actually called Mr. Alegbe to release me from the Nigerian Airways and that was how I came into SAHCOL. I walked into this organization on March 6th, 2000. Since that day, the organization has continued to grow tremendously.
From your experience, what are the secrets of successful Public Relations?
Public Relations isn’t about telling lies or propaganda as some people think. It is about building and sustaining a relationship with all stakeholders that make up the external as well as internal publics of an organization.
I recall helping my lecturers get into the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) even as a student. When I was serving in Niger State, I associated with the PR big shots in the state and I went for national conferences that required Public Relations even in political issues whilst I was only a corps member.
It didn’t come easy. There are organizations that have existed for so long but they have always had a bad public image. I’m a General Manager of Corporate Communications in SAHCOL; this is rare in many organizations. Your organization has to understand your relevance to be able to promote you to such level.
Today, I have gotten to level that the organization has placed so much confidence in my department. I have been given the privilege to act in place of the Managing Director in some cases where the Managing Director has been absent. I have worked hard to build the trust that has enabled the management have such confidence in me and my department.