Evaluating Dangers Of Regulatory Interference

Nigeria is at the edge of other missteps with so many calls, pronouncements from politicians. WOLE SHADARE writes that despite all the odds, the NCAA is stronger and more effective in its regulatory functions

Global aviation bodies lend voices

 Sometimes in June 2021, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to maintain the critical separation between politics and aviation safety issues. Even the global aviation regulatory body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has maintained the same stance.

According to IATA, the clearinghouse for over 290 global airlines, “Aviation safety and regulation must never be politicised”.

IATA had condemned the actions of the Belarus government and called for an independent investigation, adding that banning European aircraft from using Belarusian airspace with a Safety Directive was also a politicisation of aviation safety.

The group described the action and much other political interference in safety matters as retrograde and disappointing development.

Recent pronouncements

Nowhere is political interference more manifest than a recent pronouncement from the House of Representatives, a bunch of politicians on how best the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should run its activities in the name of ‘oversight’ functions.

The pronouncement from them last week brings the sector back to the Dark Age where the NCAA was a rubber stamp of many politicians who influence not only regulatory duties but chose who becomes anything in the aviation sector.

To further highlight their power over regulatory functions, the NCAA was told not to issue Air Operators’ Certificate (AOC) to the Nigeria Eagle Airline being midwife by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).

The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation gave the directive following a petition jointly addressed to the Chairman,  Nnolim Nnaji by the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals, (ANAP) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) branch of the National Union of Pensioners, (NUP),

ANAP and NUP affirmed that they were petitioning the committee to restrict NCAA from issuing AOC to Nigeria Eagle Airline to avoid a repeat of what happened in the case of Bellview Airlines which transformed to First Nation Airways and the aviation agencies ended up losing billions of naira owed by the defunct Bellview Airlines.

The committee resolved to investigate the alleged plan by AMCON to float Nigeria Eagle Airline with Arik assets to ascertain the true situation and ensure that the aspect of the liabilities is duly resolved.

The chairman, Nnaji emphasised that “if truly AMCON is taking over the assets of Arik Air and handing them over to another legal entity the aspect of liabilities must be addressed so that public funds are not lost”.

“You cannot acquire assets and leave liabilities. It is not done, we are not going to allow it because apart from the Arik’s indebtedness to the agencies, the 25% statutory remittances of the agencies to the Consolidated Accounts is there too”, Nnaji further stated.

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Capt. Nuhu with his award

Tale of woes

The nation has experienced unpalatable tales of political interference for many years before the appointment of Dr. Harold Demuren who through the Federal Government worked tirelessly to sanitise what was considered a ‘rotten’ system.

The system then contributed immensely to the spate of air accidents. The culmination of that led to many other incidents too. Not that the situation has stopped. It has greatly reduced. The conscious efforts to eliminate the gaps and allow the regulatory body to function, albeit ‘independently’ earned Nigeria the coveted category one aviation status and greatly improved the countries aviation safety, and repositioned the sector.

Demuren it would be said, resisted the attempt by a former Minister of Aviation (Name withheld) to foist Hak Airline on the NCAA for the issuance of AOC. Promoters of HAK Airlines had flown in three B737 aircraft with the support of the Minister to circumvent the processes for AOC.

Resisting pressure

The former Director-General vehemently resisted the pressure to issue AOC to the promoters, insisting that the right things must be done. HAK only flew on paper as the aircraft remained on the apron till today. That singular action and some other actions taken by Demuren cost him his job as the Minister and other members of the National Assembly conspired to remove him from office despite earlier getting the nod of the same Minister to continue for two years. The hawks engineered his removal in one of the biggest conspiracies ever in the history of the aviation industry in Nigeria.

Demuren’s administration succeeded, with like-minded patriotic legislators and stakeholders, in getting the new “Civil Aviation Act” 2006 enacted. Armed with this Act, Demuren applied himself to building a new regulatory system that would launch Nigeria back into global reckoning.

This, to a far-reaching extent, he did by galvanising the industry, using all professional and technical competencies drawn from within and, largely from outside NCAA. With this and other achievements, Nigeria attained a peak that put it on global reckoning. Both US and UK gave up their reservations on Nigeria’s unedifying aviation safety status while IFALPA no longer considered Nigeria’s airspace unsafe. Rather, pilots accepted and applauded the milestones achieved.

Aviation regulation in Nigeria

Civil Aviation regulation in Nigeria became the function of the National Government in the immediate post-colonial period. Nigeria had bought over the equities of Elder Dempstar and other stakeholders in West African Airways Corporation – WAAC following the withdrawal of Ghana in 1958 after independence; it became imperative that the new nation put in place a regulatory system that would underpin airline operations in Nigeria in accordance with ICAO sets of Standard And Recommended Practices (SARP) issued in 1944/45.

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Aviation oversight and development functions were domiciled in the Civil Aviation Department of the Federal Ministry of Aviation headed by Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe.

It was a self-regulatory regime that lasted for almost three decades. In 1988 a seminar was held for the purpose of developing an Aviation Policy for the country.

One of the recommendations that were accepted was the need to create a statutory regulatory agency under the Federal Ministry of Aviation which will be charged with the safety and economic regulation of the aviation sector as well as partly handle the provision of Air Traffic Services.

 

Nigeria’s National Assembly

Following this, by the last quarter of 1989, a new agency called “Federal Civil Aviation Authority” (FCAA) was created to carry out the Industry Oversight and regulation with Air Cdr Falope, a retired Air Force Officer as its first Chief Executive. With Falope, were younger industry professionals like Agbabiaka, Obadofin, and Demuren.

Over this 22-year period, we saw three transformations of the regulatory authority from FCAA (Federal Civil Aviation Authority 1989-1995) to DSRAM and DERAM (Directorate of Safety Regulations And Monitoring and Directorate of Economic Regulation and Monitoring 1995-1999) respectively and finally to an NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) whose framework was somewhat weak, incomprehensive and, ipso facto, limited in the mandate. In the record of each period can be found many cases of ministerial interferences in safety regulation.

The examples

According to CEO Belujane Consult, Mr. Chris Azu Aligbe in his published article in 2016 said in 1991, the then Minister of Aviation allegedly at the foyer of Hyatt Regency in Jeddah stunned FCAA CEO, the Director of Airworthiness and Safety that he had given clearance to Hold trade Airline, one of Nigeria’s Hajj Operators, to use a Canadian registered DC8 for Hajj operations.

He explained that the FCAA CEO was said to have raised issues of FCAA having not certified the airworthiness of the aircraft but got the retort “what other certification do you require”?

The aircraft during that operation lost its tyres on take-off, retracted its bare hot nose wheel into its hole close to a hydraulic laden compartment, thus igniting a fire. By now, it was airborne and passengers were reportedly falling out of the aircraft and in seconds, the aircraft turned into a flying inferno before crashing, killing all the 262 pilgrims and the crew.

In the period between 1995 and 2006, there were at least 26 extensions of overdue maintenance, and reversal, by external forces, of groundings due to safety concerns by NCAA. Two classic cases of this period include The issuance of an AOC by NCAA to a non-existent airline called ‘Air Nigeria’ in response to a ministerial directive in 2002. This never-heard-of-before professional goof was condemned by ICAO.

NCAA

When Demuren exited in 2013, he left behind a legacy of resoluteness that resisted interference from political quarters, though we are still far away from the Eldorado as subsequent events and the DANA crash would reveal. 

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When Demuren left, Capt. Fola Akinkotu, a pilot was named the DG designate., Akinkotu’s appointment was on hold by the Senate which had the responsibility to screen and confirm his appointment.

This period created a field day for intrigues, inordinate ambition, marauding spin doctors, and busybodies canvassing self-directed interests. Eventually, this harrowing period was over for Akinkotu as he received his Senate confirmation in the third quarter of 2013. Unfortunately, Akinkotu suffered severe emotional violence and indubitable injustice when, for no valid reason, he was booted out at the time he was just about to settle into his job.

The period saw a decline in performance set in as enforcement and compliance became loose, complacency set in, waivers and extensions became prevalent and the devastating impact of “outside managers” assumed a dimension that brought back memories of varied pains that hallmarked the pre-2006 era. 

Experts’ views

A former Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi has taken a swipe at the lawmakers for getting involved in matters beyond their purview-regulatory oversight, stressing that their actions and pronouncements send the wrong signal to the international community of the lack of independence of the NCAA.

Sanusi urged them to be careful so that they do not erode the gains the country had made, adding that the reason Nigeria got FAA category one was because of what we achieved in the past.

His words, “The reason we got category one was that former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua personal wrote President George Bush that there won’t be interference in safety oversight. The entire process of our category one is at risk if NCAA succumbs to what politicians say or do. Airline operators must make their voices heard because, by the time they blacklist us, they won’t be able to fly.”

Private jets on airport tarmac

An airline operator who craved anonymity said, “I find it painful and saddening what I heard concerning the House of Representatives. Outsiders are seeing us and we should not give them the impression that the NCAA is dictated to on how it should issue AOC. We should equally be mindful of the dangers of allowing NCAA to be dictated to”.

“The Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu is highly experienced. He can’t be pushed around. We should have gone past some of these pronouncements. It is very unfortunate”, he added.

Last line

Two wrongs do not make a right. Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas.

Wole Shadare