On August 21, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari swore in Mr. Hadi Sirika, as the substantive Minister of Aviation. In Buhari’s first four year tenure as President, Hadi Sirika served as a Minister of State for Aviation, a designation that made him to report directly to the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi.

Sirika’s re-appointment did not come as a surprise to most industry stakeholders; in fact, he had been tipped – more than any other Nigerian – to return to the post by most analysts given his perceived closeness to the President. Not many were therefore surprised when on his first day in office last week, staff of the ministry and even union leaders trooped out to welcome him with so much excitement.

Aviation analyst and a member of the Aviation Round Table (ART), Cat. John Ojikutu, while lauding President Buhari for re-appointing Sirika said, “not returning him to the ministry and bringing a new person could have created a downward and dangerous trend.”

In his first four years, Sirika had committed the country into some long term projects with credits secured from local and foreign firms. Ojikutu said, “it would have taken more time before the new individual (as Minister) could gather confidence to consolidate on the previous achievements or move on a new path for any progressive development.”

“It would therefore be better to consolidate on the previous achievement by fine tuning their level of development within the specified timings to next level of development,” he added.

The new road map charted for Sirika in his second term essentially revolves around investments in key infrastructure that will assist Nigeria’s aviation sector benefit from the African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) Agreement recently signed president Buhari as a member. The AfCFTA seeks to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union. And air transportation is a cardinal element that member countries like Nigeria must utilise to get maximum benefit from the AfCFTA.

Ojikutu said: “Nigeria should also fine tune the plans to develop its commercial aviation infrastructures otherwise, we may have no product to compete with our contemporaries in the continent and contribute to the AFCTA.

According to the President of the ART, Dr. Gabriel Olowo, the challenges ahead demands that Sirika hits the ground running. There is no need wasting time basking in the euphoria of the appointment, Olowo said.

“I do not envy Sirika for the arduous tasks ahead because he has said so much in the past four years and expectations are so high now” said Olowo.

“The next four years will have no room for rhetoric. In fact 2019 is already gone and 2023 is election year. He has barely 24 months to write his name in gold. He should put all his focus on measurable deliverables,” Olowo added.

The ART in charting a new four-year road map for the industry placed high premium in the upgrade of airport infrastructures to world class standards through a concession programme. It also sought the establishment of a national carrier as well as a vibrant local airline industry. Aviation essentially revolves around functional and safe airports and airlines. Nigerian airports and airlines are nowhere to be ranked among the best in the world.

Most of the airports are fraught with dilapidated terminal buildings, obsolete and malfunctioning cooling systems, scanners, conveyor belts, toilets, and runways that have become death-traps to landing aircraft. Most of the airports also lack perimeter fences, thus permitting criminals and stowaways to breach security and safety – of even moving aircraft – with ease.

And it would appear that the government is overwhelmed by the enormity of the infrastructure deficit at the airports, a trend not being helped by the paucity of funds that has hit the government in recent years due to dwindling income from crude oil sales. The way out of the funding logjam for key infrastructure upgrade in Nigeria, therefore lies in Public Private Partnerships (PPP) like concession.

According to Olowo, it is important that Sirika resurrects his planned concession of airports. The target of the exercise, Olowo said should be to deliver two to three ‘Airport companies of Nigeria’. These companies should be saddled with the task of putting down the requisite funds that will give Nigeria airport modern terminal buildings with installed high technologies and functional car parks.

“The aim should be to make the Lagos, Abuja, and Kano airports a formidable West African Hub by 2025. This is doable judging from the case study of Ghana’s achievement of a similar feat within a span of four years,” Olowo said.

On his part, Ojikutu suggested that with the plan for airport concession, FAAN should be upgraded to a Holding Company having all the terminals concession to private companies on behalf of the Federal Government.

Ojikutu said: “Give out all the 20 federal airports for concession at once to remove the burden of providing annual budgets for their maintenance and improvement from the government except recovery intervention.

“However, the concession must be limited to passenger and cargo terminal building, aircraft aprons and parkings, car parks, toll gates, land office building and any other non-aeronautical infrastructures,” he added.

Sirika should also midwife the birth of two or three strong ‘flag carriers’ along the geo-political/geo-economic zones of North, East, and West lines with the airlines given the target of operating a minimum air-worthy fleet of 25 aircraft each at a growth rate of 2.5 per cent annually in four years.

“This aircraft fleet size is desirable to compete strongly and achieve benefits latent in African Continent Trade Agreement (AFCTA),” said Olowo.

There is no way that Nigeria can make meaningful progress in aviation without the review of all existing Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) with foreign countries, especially non-African states.

In fact, to retain and sustain the domestic routes and the markets for the Nigeria private airline commercial operators, there is a very urgent need for Sirika to review those ‘Commercial Agreements’ that have given multiple landings and destinations to foreign airlines.

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