Stakeholders condemn planned merger of aviation agencies
Industry operators and other stakeholders, including the labour unions, have expressed strong disapproval of plan by the federal government to merge the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) into a single entity, the Federal Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA).
Many industry stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY accused the government of not consulting widely before issuing a white paper on the planned merger, which was part of the recommendations made by a committee, headed by a former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsanye.
Aviation security expert, Adebayo Babatunde who spoke on the issue said it was contrary to the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to member states that each aviation agency should exist as a separate entity. He also described the merger plan as retrogressive and confusing insisting that it does not make any sense to merge a regulatory body, NCAA with service providers NAMA and NIMET.
Also, industry consultant Chris Aligbe who spoke in the same vein described the merger plan as a wrong move, which would spell doom for the industry in the near future. He said it was a retrogressive step that would pull the industry more than 50 years behind, thus diminishing the progress made in the industry so far.
Aligbe observed that the Oronsanye committee did not consult widely with the people in the industry because his focus was to cut down government bureaucracy and reduce the financial burden of running government agencies. According to Aligbe the committee did “a cut and join job of merging the agencies without knowing the international implications of such action.”
He said: “Oronsanye should have known that NCAA is a regulatory agency, NAMA and NIMET, service providers. The merger messes up the regulatory agency because it means that instead of regulating the service providers, it will now begin to regulate itself. This will take us several years back; in fact more than 50 years back.”
Aligbe noted that merger of a regulatory body with service providers is not accepted globally, pointing out that NIMET is not wholly an aviation agency; rather it provides service to the aviation sector as it does to the agricultural, maritime and other sectors that need weather forecast, so it does not make any sense merging it with aviation regulatory body.
“Those in government who brought out white paper on the merger plan did not consult people in the industry. A Nigerian is the President of ICAO Council, Dr Bernard Aliu; a Nigerian is the head of Africa Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC). These people should have been consulted before such decision should be taken,” Aligbe added.
He said before government could carry out its merger plan, it must have to repeal the Acts that established these agencies, noting that these Acts have been existing for a long time and have been subjected to global assessment by world regulatory bodies and accepted by ICAO and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Aligbe also suggested that as the objective of the Oronsanya committee was to cut down the cost of running the agencies, the better option would have been to give greater autonomy to the agencies so that they will become self-reliant, remarking that if the merger plan was executed, it would have wasted the opportunity for further development of the agencies.
“If these agencies are merged it will create a complex organisation. There is dearth of managerial competence in the industry right now, so the organisation will not have the right competences to manage it effectively,” he said.
Aligbe insisted that the committee has created more problems for the aviation industry but took solace in the fact that the National Assembly, which would repeal the Acts to create room for the merger would not be able to do that in the next two years and during the period the plan would be subjected to greater scrutiny under which government should wisely jettison the plan.
“The National Assembly will not be able to repeal these Acts establishing the existing agencies earmarked for merger in the next two years. And before this will be done, those in the industry will be given the opportunity through public hearing to air their views on the implications of the merger. The Oronsanya committee did not do the job of a cabinet maker; it did the job of a cut and join carpenter, and this will not work, Aligbe added.”
An industry operator who also condemned the plan noted that the ICAO’s Article 8365 is against the merging of aviation agencies, pointing out that government’s plan was at variance with the world civil aviation regulatory body. “Ironically, a Nigerian is the President of ICAO Council”, he said.
Speaking in the same vein, former Managing Director of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Limited (nahco aviance), Bates Sule, described the merger plan as ill-conceived and recalled that it was the same experiment that took place in 1995, when the name FCAA was used but reality downed on government and it had to do the right thing by creating autonomous NCAA.
He said the same scenario would repeat itself in the present plan, as huge resources would be spent to merge the agencies and in the next two years the demerits of that action would force government to demerge and another funds would be deployed to do that.
“What happened in 1995 they are bringing back again. It is not the best because in the next two years they will demerge again, and this will affect the next reassessment on our Category One safety status by the US Federal Aviation Administration. It will cost too much to merge and another huge cost to demerge. If they were merging NAMA and NIMET it could be okay, but how can they contemplate merging operators with the regulatory agency?”
A former Managing Director of NAMA, Nnamdi Udoh however noted that the plan to merge the agency started in 2011 and said that the white paper issued for the merger was the actualisation of that plan. He noted that NIMET is not entirely an aviation agency so merging it with NAMA and NCAA will create knotty challenges.
He suggested that some of the services should be outsourced while the private sector should play greater role in the sector, as it is done in other parts of the world.