Chris Aligbe gives insight into some of the ills of Nigeria’s aviation sector
In my spare time, I always tune in to the DSTV Channels showing Nigerian and African movies. I do so because the plots are usually abstractions from our society. They mirror the valueless times and the moral decadence in which we live and then pull us back to our value-laden past, when families and individuals prided themselves in their high moral standing. One of the movies featured a young Catechist (Francis Duru) who put an “innocent” girl acted by Chioma Chukwuka-Akpotha in a family way, denied her and got her thrown into the streets. But nemesis caught up with him when the truth was discovered and he was forced to marry her in conformity with the cherished values of the Christian faith.
The second was one in which Hilda Dokubo, playing a royalty role, asked one of her Chiefs this question: “Chief, if your character meets your reputation in the street, will they recognise each other?” This was awesome. The question arose because the character of the chief played out in secret was not only utterly despicable but at complete variance with his public reputation as a High Chief.
Pained by the unfortunate Associated Airline’s crash in spite of the great strides we have made in repositioning our aviation industry in the areas of airspace infrastructure and management and in regulation, I came across Fani-Kayode’s article titled “Rumours of Sacrifice, Agagu and Stella Oduah”, in which he reflected on President Jonathan, the PDP and some Aviation Ministers, past and present including himself, using the accident as a rider.
In his judgmental reflections, every person from the President to all the Ministers but himself, was unfit as it were; unknowledgeable and underperformed.
Professing his excellent knowledge of the aviation industry, Fani-Kayode said: “…there is far more to aviation than beautifying airports…” In his catechism, he catalogues safety of passengers, airworthiness of airplanes, solemn and avowed commitment to discipline, professionalism and efficiency of the aviation Parastatals as the sine qua non for success. He further contended that whenever there is an air crash for whatever reason, the Minister should accept responsibility, offer to resign, failing which she should be redeployed or sacked.
Before embarking on his long trip in self-adulation, Fani-Kayode unguardedly pokes fun at President Jonathan, not for what he has done but for his would-be inability to sack Stella Oduah, even if 1000 people get killed in six months in air crashes under her.
Turning the search light unto himself, Fani-Kayode eulogises self for being the only Minister since 2002 whose tenure did not experience any air crash. He claims that this was due “to hard-work, prayer and the grace of God”.
After taking a brush at his sworn foe and predecessor, Professor Borishade under whose tenure the devastating air crashes of 2005 and 2006 in which 453 fatalities occurred, again Fani-Kayode pointed out how, from the point he took over from Borishade, he turned off the switch of crashes as it were by putting a stop to them, thus breaking what he referred to as a “cycle” of air crashes that occur every 10 years.
In further effort at self-reconstruction, Fani-Kayode puts on a self-designed cloak of impeccable reputation in worldly and otherworldly knowledge in aviation matters and management. He further pushes self-reconstruction to the outer limits of arrogance when he refers all of us to his website to benefit from his “well researched” papers on aviation and the impact of the ethereal and spiritual on air crashes.
Expressing anger over social media comments on late Agagu, he acknowledges that Dr. Agagu’s tenure did not witness any air crash. Incidentally, Agagu ran aviation for about two years from 1999 to 2001 longer than Fani-Kayode’s seven months, and within the same Obasanjo era. However, in order to retain his reputation of being the only Minister whose tenure never experienced air crashes, Fani-Kayode has to start his count from 2002 to date rather than 1999.
If I had not been in aviation, I would have yearned for the return of Fan-Kayode’s “golden era” in our aviation sector. But I know that since 1988 when I left the Ministry of Information to join the Democrat Newspapers and, subsequently to Nigeria Airways in 1989, I have been a very close and avid watcher of the aviation industry. For close to 25 years, I have neither been physically nor psychologically away.
More critically, because of personal interest in the Obasanjo era in aviation during which Nigeria Airways was liquidated and over three thousand staff, quite a number, of whom have now died, were thrown out without their benefits up till today, followed the performance of every Minister, from Agagu and Chikwe under whose tenures I worked, to Yuguda, Borisade, Fani-Kayode, Diezeani/Hyatt, Omotoba, and Njeze to Oduah the present Minister.
The history is not too distant and the records of legacies and ignoble roles of each Minister are available.
My first encounter with Fani-Kayode was during the aviation stakeholders meeting called by Obasanjo to address the challenges of the industry in the aftermath of the crashes of 2005/2006. The meeting was held at the Villa Conference Hall. That fateful day, Obasanjo was raging with anger and, rightfully emotionally laden. Borishade was the Minister then. In a fit of anger, Obasanjo literally sacked the then Director-General of NCAA, Engr Fidelis Onyeyiri, a first-class Maintenance Licenced Engineer.
When he said to Borishade at the middle of Onyeyiri’s brief, “Minister, if these are the type of people you have in aviation, I am sorry you have no person.” Then, Obasanjo handed down bans on ADC and Sosoliso and surprisingly sanctioned Chanchangi that had no issue but left Bellview whose crash in 2005 was not only as devastating as others but also will remain one of the three classics in the cover up of evidence to sub-plant accident investigations in the history of aviation accidents in our country.
All of us present were stunned. Fani-Kayode, then Special Assistant to Obasanjo, was also there. At the end of the meeting, as we walked out, the Bellview case was the talking point. Unfortunately, there was a daring man who voiced out his anger loudly, alleging ethnic bias. Fani-Kayode who was close by not only challenged and engaged him but also threw caution and the expected public conduct of his office to the wind, when in spite of his flowing agbada charged at the man for a physical combat. It took two gentlemen to restrain him from physically attacking the man by pushing him into his waiting car.
Nobody could decipher why Obasanjo did what he did; could it be a once-in-life descent into ethnic pedestal for a man not known in life to be so inclined? This was to be fathomed in later months when we all came to realise that Fani-Kayode and the owner-manager of Bellview, Kayode Odukoya, were deeply intimate and that what happened was a precursor to what was to become the “Bellview accident investigation saga”.
Before Fani-Kayode became aviation minister, he was on a local flight from Lagos to Abuja with his armed Aide, who refused to surrender his gun and live ammunition to aviation security officers in accordance with standard best global practices. Fani-Kayode did not intervene to put his Aide on track. The then Airport Manager, the most senior and highly professional Airport Manager in FAAN then, Taiwo Okuiga, quietly informed the pilot of the flight that an armed passenger was on board. The pilot shut the engine and ordered every passenger down for security screening. The Aide was forced to surrender his weapon.
When Fani-Kayode assumed duty as Aviation Minister, his first decision was the transfer of Okuiga to Yola airport, which was not receiving flights. This was his punishment for exhibiting the highest level of professionalism in the area of security and safety of passengers as approved by ICAO and as enunciated by Fani-Kayode in his catechism of “safety of passengers, discipline and professionalism” as the hallmark of his tenure in aviation.
At the time Fani-Kayode assumed duty as Aviation Minister in 2006, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) then headed by Engineer Angus Ozoka had virtually concluded investigations into the Bellview crash in Lisa Village, Ogun State in 2005. The Report by the Bureau under Ozoka unambiguously indicted Bellview Management for grievous malpractices, corner-cutting, untoward procedures, unethical practices and culpable negligence and the Airworthiness Directorate of the NCAA headed by Engineer Oduselu for poor oversight and negligence.
The Pilot was also found not to have been technically sound in his decision. Ozoka’s report was so devastating that if accepted, all those involved would never ever again qualify to operate any airline in any sane environment. More critically, the Report would have given rise to extensive litigations whose consequences are difficult to imagine.
But the highly performing Minister would not allow this Report to pass because his dear friend, the Owner/Manager of Bellview would be embarrassingly exposed and indicted. He rejected the Report, an action that the AIB Act forbids. To cover himself for this despicable act which no Minister before and after him has never done, Fani-Kayode told Nigerians that he rejected the report because he had evidence that the crash was caused by an explosive planted in the aircraft. This was the height of either mischief or ignorance and unbecoming.
*TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW