Olateru: Most countries don’t have air safety records like that of Nigeria

 Akin Olateru is the Director-General of the newly established Nigeria Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) that replaced the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB). In this interview with WOLE SHADARE, the aircraft engineer speaks on the country’s impeccable aviation safety, review of NSIB regulation, and how the agency is positioned to unravel causes of accidents in the air, rail, maritime and road the way it is done in some advanced countries  

 

 How has it been since the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) was created out of the rested Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB)?

 

Change is something that is permanent. You can’t avoid change in life. It is something that will always occur and happen. All these agencies are owned by the Federal Government; so, the Federal Government in its wisdom, decided to centralise all accident investigations. The Act has been passed. It is a law. I don’t think any institution will refuse to abide by the law. We don’t have any pushback from any of them and we are doing what we are supposed to do.

When the rail accident happened, I met with the railway team and their Managing Director and Director for Operations and Engineering. Their reception was good. Even the railway police, we met with all of them. The cooperation has been excellent so far. What we are just a little bit worried about is the speed of work, but we will get there because, from the air, we work with speed. I hope over time, we will get used to it. We are at the infant stage. People will get used to us taking charge fully. But one thing I have to say is that people forget things easily in Nigeria. There was a time in this country when Nigerians were scared to fly. They are extremely scared to fly. People would fly only when it was absolutely necessary to do so. I had people tell me that they can’t fly local flights and that they don’t have issues with international flights. That is perception. We came in and one thing I will give the All Progressives Congress (APC) government since they came in 2015 is that they have stabilised the air sector. We have reduced the fatal crashes to almost zero. In 2016, we only lost three souls to civil aviation transportation. We have done very well in that area. To me, I think we need to give that credit to this government because it is a major achievement. A lot of countries don’t have the kind of safety records we have in Nigeria today. People just take it for granted. Safety is not an accident. It didn’t just happen. Some people worked for it. There are a lot of collaborations between the investigators and regulators. So, many safety recommendations were issued. Let’s take the most fatal crash that happened in this country in 2012 for instance. The report was never released. There were no safety recommendations issued until 2017, five years later. So, what is the essence of investigation? It is to prevent reoccurrence and the by-product is the safety recommendation. So, if you don’t issue the right safety recommendations, how do you prevent reoccurrence? Full implementation of safety recommendations is key. Without that, you will be wasting your time doing any investigation.

That is one thing we have achieved. We have one of the best implementation ratings in the world today. We have over 86 percent of safety recommendation implementation. And every month, we have a joint meeting between the Civil Aviation Authority and NSIB that constantly evaluates all the safety recommendations to ensure implementation. Another thing is that we have gone a step further, which is beyond the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 13 on Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation. Not just the implementation, we look at the effectiveness of the implementation.

 

Has it actually solved the problem?

This is because we are constantly monitoring the trend and events within the sector. That is one thing we have been doing in the last few years. Behind the scenes, we are measuring the trend. We are watching. Gone are the days when events will happen and they will go unnoticed. I think we need to give it to this administration. The APC government has done excellently well in this area because the safety of life is critical to the business. It is not just about spending money.

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AIB Commissioner, Engr. Akin Olateru

The newly created Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) which replaced Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has commenced a review of its regulations, what stage are you with the review?

 

We are doing a review of the entire regulation. Our regulation before now was only air transport. Now, we are multi-modal, and we must come up with a regulation that would cover all.

 

 The expansion of the scope of your responsibilities comes with an increase in the volume of facilities required, what constitutes your priorities in terms of getting the requirements for the new assignment?

 

To deliver on the mandate, which has just been given to us, four things are very critical. One is equipment. Some of our equipment today are compatible with other modes of transportation. In today’s world, you have ships that have recorders that can be downloaded in our facility. Some fast trains around the world today have recorders as well. In terms of the recorders, I think we are good, but there is some specific equipment that will be required for us to carry out this mandate in other modes of transportation. In terms of human capital, I can say we are 70 percent. This is because, since 2018, we started training all our investigators on the three modes of transportation. Even myself, I have been trained at Cranfield University in air, rail, and maritime accidents. It was a combined course because in accident investigation, basically, the techniques are the same. There are just a few things that are different. Cranfield University is a good institute that runs that kind of programme and that is what we want to replicate in our own training school in Abuja.

 

Number two, some personnel will be required because if you are talking of training, rail, for instance, there are some specific personnel that would be required to join our investigators. In maritime as well, we need some specific hands in that area. Basically, in human capital, yes; in equipment, yes. In terms of infrastructure, we have to definitely look into getting more offices because when you look at maritime you have to go with the water and ask where we have water in Nigeria. You have in Lagos; you have in Port Harcourt and in Calabar. So, we need to be closer in those areas. We need to re-strategize our programmes in terms of infrastructure. And then rail as well.

In terms of regulation, we are currently reviewing our regulations to capture all three modes of transportation. By the Act of August 2022, AIB-N transformed into NSIB. Before then, NSIB was a mono investigator of air accidents. But now it is a multi-modal investigator. Definitely, you will need more facilities.

 

 

How far has the bureau gone to ensure there are adequate personnel that can take up the task?

We have done our evaluation and we are currently working with the office of the Head of Service (HoS). NSIB is a government institution. We don’t have the power to enlarge human capital without their approval. So, the new scheme of service has been proposed to the Head of Service, and we are following up, waiting for approval. Once that is done, we move into the next phase.

 

From the NSIB Act, the agency was supposed to get funds from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), while the Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) received by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on behalf of the other agencies were supposed to increase, how far have you gone with this?

 

So far, the six percent from the NCAA is on board fully. We are in the process of getting FAAN to remit the five percent of the PSC. It is not only FAAN because when you look at the Act properly, it is all terminal operators and that includes the Murtala Muhammed Airport Two (MMA2), Asaba, Osubi, and all those terminal operators. As long as you charge what they call PSC, we will have to get the five percent. That is the law. And we will soon reach out to them

 

Then, on NIMASA, we are in talks with them to see how this can start. The NRC is supposed to pay five percent of all railway charges in Nigeria. In all these you need consultations. Yes, the law empowers you but you need engagements and consultations and that is what we are doing.

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There are those who believe that NSIB has not got investigators in other modes of transportation, apart from what they have in aviation, what is your reaction to this?

 

I am telling you authoritatively, 100 percent, more than half of all our investigators in NSIB have been trained on air, rail, and maritime investigations from Cranfield University. That, I can tell you authoritatively. You have to understand too that training is an ongoing thing. As I said, we need some specific manpower to support our investigations. Like the rail, it is ongoing. That is what is delaying the report. We have done our own, but we are waiting for the NRC because the knowledge of railway workers still resides in them and we rely on them to get the facts. Of course, different agencies have their own speed and mode of work. We have to respect their own jurisdiction, but they are cooperating with us. Hopefully, we will get the data we are asking for. Once we get that data, we are ready to release the report.

 

 

Where do you see the bureau in the next five years? Is the NSIB self-regulating? If yes, what is the assurance that it will not be compromised?

One thing I love about aviation is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We are guided by the ICAO annexes. That is what we do. It is just like the regulator. Who regulates the regulator? Who regulates the investigator? Technically, you do self-regulation. That is why there is an audit and there is ICAO that comes to see what you are doing. They will come in August this year and we are going to be audited by ICAO to ensure we are doing things the way they are supposed to be done. It is not just that you are left alone to do what you like. No.

From time to time, the world Policeman, which is ICAO that sets the standards, comes in and they do evaluations and checks to see what your procedures are. Do you have the right manpower level? Are you following these processes? Yes, in your manual, you say AYB, XYZ, show me that you are following. The same goes for the civil aviation authority, the NCAA because if you look at the whole setup, NSIB represents the state as an investigator; the CAA represents the state as a regulator. That is the way it is set up.

 

The CAA doesn’t regulate NSIB. CAA regulates all the service providers in the industry. NSIB is not a service provider. The regulator is not a service provider. We don’t regulate civil aviation, but the only thing is that we are empowered to investigate civil aviation and issue safety recommendations where we feel they are not up to what they are doing.

 

 The NSIB was not called to investigate the recent boat mishap in Calabar, Calabar State despite its new status, could you also give an estimate of what you might need in terms of materials and equipment to tackle maritime investigation?

 

Even to preach the gospel, you need a lot of money. We need a lot of money to be able to carry out an investigation because Nigeria as a country is vast. But, to reduce the exposure, we don’t have to have everything that we need in-house. That was why we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigerian Navy on the maritime sector to help us. On the Calabar occurrence, we are at the infancy stage and we need to be clear as to what we can take on and what we can’t take on. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in America doesn’t investigate every occurrence. They decide what it is they want to take on or not.

 

Do I have the capacity to take it on? There are a few issues, which will be resolved over time. When you talk of maritime investigation, you need a lot of public engagement. Yes, we dispatched people to the site of the crash, but the place had been shut down by the government. All my people that went there couldn’t see anybody to talk with. So, how do you launch an investigation or start when there is no reference point? But, all these teething challenges will be a story of the past over time because we need strong and serious public enlightenment and sensitisation for people to get awareness and for them to know the procedures. Things like that will come, but it is a matter of time.

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AIB Commissioner, Akin Olateru

Before the NSIB was formed, there was a major train attack about two years ago, can the bureau recommend what compensation would look like, when it comes to passenger attacks? And how would you tackle that in your safety recommendations?

One thing you have to understand is that we don’t handle criminal matters. That is for the police or the Department of Safety Security (DSS) to handle. Once it is an attack or something criminal, we don’t get involved. We hand them over to the police. On the people that died, that is one section in our Act that we created. It has never happened in the history of Nigeria and this is going to come up very soon. We are working on the modality of how it will work. It is called a family assistance programme. How do you take care of families, bereaved, or stuff like that? We are working out with the regulators to see how we can design something to take care of them. We have a team right now working on how part of this Act will work in the interest of Nigerians.

 

Could you give an estimate of how many technical personnel NSIB will require to be able to handle other modes of transportation in cases of accidents or serious incidents?

 

In terms of technical competence, if you take an air accident for instance, for you to investigate an air accident, you need an experienced pilot or aircraft engineer; sometimes you need Air Traffic Controllers (ATC), depending on the nature of your course. The same thing goes for other modes.

 

If you talk of trains, you need a signalman and an experienced train driver to tell you. For instance, in the train accident that happened in Ikeja, if the train driver was to apply the brakes, it could have caused a derailment, and thousands of people on board that train would have been killed or injured. So, it was cheaper and it made a whole lot of sense for the driver to allow the train to go hit the bus. It is about making a decision. You need somebody that understands the workings of the train. Yes, we have investigators that have trained in accident investigation, but you still need the technical people to join you in that investigation. Because we don’t have that right now, that is why we are working with the railway team. We have three of them in our team working on this investigation.

 

Some directorates were created or added to NSIB, which some players in the sector said violated your existing Act; can you throw more light on this?

 

On the contrary, there is no appointment of directorates that contravenes the Act of NSIB because when you read the Act very well, the Act didn’t specify any directorate. When you read some other agencies’ Acts, they will tell you, there shall be a director of finance, accounts, and legal among others. So, if you go outside those specific directorates, that’s when you are in violation. But, in our case, there are no such things in our Act.

 

There is no defined directorate. That is at the mercy of the government to say or choose and to the approval of the head of the service for the scheme of service to approve. That yes, it can be this directorate, it can be this GM, it can be this DGM or AGM. It is left for the head of the service to approve. So we left it a bit loose so that the government will decide to take a decision. It is not in any violation.

Wole Shadare