By Dave Baro-Thomas
The recent suspension of the Nigeria Air project and subsequent applause by the Airlines Operators of Nigeria, AON, may be an endorsement of the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Barr Festus Egwarewa Keyamo, but on the other hand, it crystalizes the aspirations of critical stakeholders for the resuscitation of an industry that is almost deoxygenated and left in the Intensive Care Units, ICU, gasping for breath.
The inaugural meeting of Barr Keyamo and the management of the Ministry initially sent conflicting signals of what to expect, and firstly, speculation was rife that the statue quo may remain because it is off the curve in this clime to probe the tenure of a fellow party member even when a large hole is drilled through the tills of the Ministry. Secondly, a promise to substantially adhere to the masterplan of his successor did not sit pretty well with some people, except, of course, if it holds tangible and realistic values for the industry. But interestingly, the immediate action of the Minister, is akin to a blind man miraculously recovering his sight.
Given the controversy over his designation as Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development that polarized stakeholders, a highly technical and sophisticated transportation subsector demands some level of competence given the leadership misfortunes plaguing the industry since inception.
To worsen the injury, the only Aviator ever entrusted with the management of the Ministry left Nigerians wondering how slim is the line between a scam and marketing gimmicks when an Ethiopian airline aircraft was whitewashed and water-coloured as Nigeria Air, as accusations and counter-accusations rend the air with Nigerians witnessing a dance of shame between the penultimate Minister and the then House Committee Chairman on Aviation.
This emerging scenario prompted industry players to shout themselves hoarse that an attorney-at-law cannot do the job a supposed technocrat bungled, so let us establish that some previous Ministers did not fail because they lacked competence or were not fit for the job given their attainments in their chosen professions, but they lacked sincerity of purpose. And to cap it all, greed, massive corruption and many more, were their undoing.
So, to say Keyamo, an attorney is not qualified to head the Ministry, would be fallacious and ridiculous because, even the father of democracy and one of the most advanced economies of the world – the US; had Karan Krishna Bhatia, under George Bush and Carol Annette Petsonk, under Joe Biden, both attorneys (lawyers) as Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Aviation and International Affairs, – an equivalent to the Minister of Aviation in Nigeria. Keyamo does not lack the required managerial, administrative or leadership capabilities to galvanize technocrats and civil servants to drive the industry.
So, the point is to have a Minister with the political Will, sincerity of purpose, robust engagement with industry stakeholders, and near zero tolerance for corruption as the dividing line between the survival and death of the subsector, but the corruption element in the mix is another kettle of fish.
Can Festus Keyamo deliver the goods? Has he the guts and capacity to engage fiercely and fearlessly? Is he a man who can face the consequences and stand with the stakeholders and masses? Can he look above the heads and beyond the sycophants in the Ministry and stomp on toes?
Keyamo, as a Senior Advocate of the Masses, will not give a hoot and could deliver this job with dispatch, but today, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, has eaten of the fruits amid the political garden of Nigeria, leaving us with uncertain contemplations.
The sagacious, eloquent and fiery legal luminary seems to have started well. But issues on the front burner are beyond kids’ gloves, and either he changes the narrative, gets the industry out of ICU, immortalizes his name and redeems his noble profession or goes down history as another national shame and embarrassment, the latter option seems unlikely.
So, it is time for Mr Minister to roll up his sleeves and have a very urgent, dispassionate and frank conversation with the industry leadership and across its ecosystem, because the issues on the plate are very expedient.
This aviation industry seems to ooze very foul smell across its governance structure, ranging from the shoddy concessionaire framework to decaying and obsolete infrastructures across board, especially critical navigational infrastructure, to forex scarcity and inability for investors to repatriate funds creating problems, high cost of aviation fuel and the inexplicable barrage of taxes, safety, security and surveillance challenges, unease of doing business, large number of unemployed qualified aviators, poor maintenance culture and unkempt environment, rowdy and uncoordinated taxi parks and touts in the passengers’ lobby, incessant flight cancellations and delays sometimes with impunity, and a litany of others, and the industry cannot suffer all these and remain viable and efficient?
If this industry is a human, it would have long died of cardiac arrest occasioned by multiple organ failure, so the Honourable Minister must find both a formal and informal route to gain the confidence and buy-in of all critical stakeholders to interrogate the masterplan and as he submitted, take what is relevant and discard what is not, get the stakeholders to join hands with him and fashion an entirely new roadmap if that is necessary.
The Honourable Minister may not probe the past administration, but EFCC can handle that, and any semblance of the rot inherited must not thrive. Against this backdrop, there is no room for superficial incision into this near-dead industry but a painstaking, deep, ruthless surgical cut before applying all the medication required for resuscitation.
The Aviation subsector can significantly contribute to the GDP, expand its more than 240,000 workforce, drive trade, commerce, and tourism, and deepen social integration and national cohesion. Mr Minister’s days as government spokesman are over as roles and responsibilities have changed since he took that shaky bow at the Senate, so the Minister should walk the talk. His performance will accentuate his principal’s image, but no hiding under another superior Minister like his stint at the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
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Mr Keyamo should take this glory or fall, a simple choice for a man who can do this job. The industry would never remain the same under one of the finest prosecution lawyers who hibernated under the burning shadows of the great Chief Gani Fahewemi of blessed memories – where he (Keyamo) became the masses’ hero. Will he remain one? Let us wait for the writing on the wall.