Like every other sector of the economy in Nigeria, the aviation industry has experienced different phases of development under various administrations. There have been various roundtables, stakeholders meeting and committees on delivering a new vision for the sector with no tangible outcome.Each administration has tried to introduce something different, and every helmsman/woman did attempt to inculcate a new vision and direction, albeit misdirected and ill-advised in some instances. Interestingly, some ministers presented what they call master plan, roadmap, or vision depending on the individual preference without recourse to relevant input from stakeholders in the industry. For those who consulted with stakeholders in the industry and set up committees, the roadmaps that were produced ended up in the archives as every new minister eventually resort to developing a new vision. But the point remains that they all tried to usher a new sense of direction and instil lasting legacy in the industry. Whether the individual legacy they eventually bequeathed is laudable or otherwise will be left to the court of public opinion. The country has experienced nothing less than three of such visions and master plans since the return to democracy in 1999. Each minister introduced a new vision or roadmap that never succeeded in taking the aviation industry in the country to the desired destination. The roadmaps generally become obsolete few kilometres into the journey, and the policy makers simply forget there was ever a policy direction. Instead they drive the industry separate directions from what the roadmap stipulates. Political interference and politicization of the industry has become an entrenched debilitating factor. Hence, visions and roadmaps are developed not necessarily to advance the sector but largely for political expediencies. This has been the bane of Nigeria’s aviation industry, which explains the disappointing state of the sector.
The Obasanjo administration, as part of the many reforms introduced to turnaround the entire economy, attempted to provide a holistic framework for aviation in Nigeria in the first term (1999-2003). However, the government could not make significant progress throughout the first term but for the fruitless energy and resources expended on establishing a national carrier, and the ill-fated concession of the development of the domestic terminal of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja to Bi-Courtney Limited on April 24, 2003. By the second term of the administration the government had to intensify efforts to correct the many anomalies in the industry, especially the incessant air crashes that had claimed many lives and amplified the negative perception of the industry. In 2005, the then Minister of Aviation, Mallam Isa Yuguda set up a 12-member Committee on the Development of Civil Aviation (CAMP) chaired by Engr. A.I Ozoka, Director, Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau in the Federal Ministry of Aviation. The mandate of the committee was to develop a 25-year comprehensive plan to provide critical infrastructure and generally grow the nation’s aviation industry. About the same time, the India government set up a similar committee to review the aviation industry in the country and develop a roadmap for development. In actual fact, the committee in India was set up before ours. Whilst the Indian committee submitted a comprehensive report of over 70 pages detailing step by step plan for growth and development, what happened to the Nigerian counterpart remains unknown to the Nigerian public. No roadmap was provided and no reasons were giving for the inactivity or failure of the committee. Today India is considered the world’s fastest growing domestic aviation market, whilst our aviation sector has remained in its hollow.
In a sharp departure from his predecessors, Babatunde Omotoba, the Minister of Aviation under the administration of President Musa Yar’ Adua had a different view about the subject previous ministers were obsessed about – establishing a national carrier. Whereas some aviation stakeholders were pushing for the enactment of Fly Nigeria Act, a law that would see to the establishment of a national carrier, the minister advised against it in a very rare occurrence. His reasons were that the Nigerian elite who would be the target market would rather patronise a British Airways and other established carriers in that category. He went on to advise local airlines to up their ante before a Fly Nigeria Act could be pursued. Seeing the huge investment required in transforming the nation’s aviation infrastructure, the minister proposed the PPP approach as a viable strategy to upgrade the infrastructure at the airports. He then announced that the government would be conceding four airports –Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, NnamdiAzikiweInternatioonal Airport, Abuja, Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, and MallamAminu Kano International Airport. His argument was that the government would need a minimum of 150 billion naira to ensure world class standard at each airport, yet the capital budgetary allocation for aviation ministry in 2009 was N29 billion. And since the government lacked the capacity to fund such project, a good alternative would the PPP approach. The death of the former president and the subsequent dissolution of the cabinet automatically halted the concession plans. The industry was practically directionless policy-wise until the arrival of Mrs Stella Oduah, who again unveiled an aviation masterplan. The key components of the masterplan were to establish a world-class safety and security standard; develop airports’ infrastructure and reform aviation-related institutions, develop the sector’s capacity and increase professionalism. There was also a plan to transform key airports into a network of domestic and international hubs, grow domestic airlines and financial stability. She also proposed the development of airport cities (Aerotropolis) to transform airports into major centres of employment, shopping, trading, business and leisure as well as create a national carrier. Whilst the remodelling of the airports was started the minister could not complete her masterplan before her exit from office.
However, Mr. OsitaChidoka, the immediate successor to Mrs. SteĺlaOduah, shocked Nigerians when he declared that there was no aviation masterplan in place in the industry. This came as a surprise to observers because his predecessor had dedicated considerable energy to actualising her vision. Obviously, none of the master plans touted since the return to democracy in 1999 was ever executed. If all these visions and master plans were developed and executed as envisaged or announced, our aviation industry would have become a major attraction to the world. And we would have been one of the most prominent aviation hubs in Africa owing to our size and the different treaties we have committed to as a country.
Like some of his predecessors, the current Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika assumed office with a new vigour and policy direction. Being a practitioner in the industry, stakeholders expected a new dawn in the sector. True to expectations, barely one year into officethe minister unveiled the aviation master plan which was aimed at providing a direction for the industry. The plan included a comprehensive upgrade of aviation infrastructure in the country. A major component of his vision is the proposed concession of selected airports as a solution to the obsolete and dilapidated aviation infrastructure. He also stated that the government was determined to complete the ultra-modern airport terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt before the beginning of 2017, in addition to re-positioning the industry to accommodate air cargo.
The minister also included the establishment of a national carrier in order to take advantage of the many treaties Nigeria is signatory to. In a laudable dimension he emphasized that the planned carrier will be floated on the Nigerian stock exchange to allow Nigerians buy its shares and own the business. He also encouraged investment in MRO to prevent the huge capital outflow due to maintenance of aircrafts. Two years after that announcement, it appears this aviation vision is again going the way of the previous ones. Although the roadmap resonated with practitioners in the industry, not much has been achieved to show a commitment to the overall development of the industry. As of today, the most pronounced pursuit of the government has been the national carrier when the other action items in the master plan should serve as precursors to national carrier. The minister has not told stakeholders how he intends to attract investment in MRO which has remained a draining pipe for local airline operators since they have to constantly maintain their aircraft. Yet they are condemned to contend with the dissipating exchange rate. This is one of the many challenges facing the industry and adding to the high operating cost of local airlines. The minister also stated some airports will be designated for air cargo; rather than improve on existing facilities there has been a continuous deterioration. In the same vein, it appears we have completely abandoned plans for the concession of the airports. It appears we have abandoned the latest roadmap. There is really no point preparing a vision when it will be abandoned half way into the journey; it is a waste of resources. However, it is difficult to arrive at a desired destination without a well-designed roadmap. If we have taken the pain to design a plan, it is only appropriate that we keep to it.