There are a million flowery word combinations I could say to sound like an intelligent person. But today is not a day for semantic gymnastics.
The aviation industry can be sobering, but we must, here and now, decide if we want to be remembered as mere statistics in Nigeria’s aviation history or as the generation that united itself for the redemption of an industry so vital to the economic growth of nations and the people whose travels give us something to call an industry to begin with.
Because it is public-facing, aviation faces immeasurable criticism from stakeholders and non-stakeholders alike. While this is not such a bad thing, there is a point in every nation’s life when everyone—the critic and the criticized—must put aside their differences and save the industry.
In fact, there are moments when it makes absolutely no sense to criticize, not to mention subjective criticism. It gets to a point where the audience can see through the facade.
Nigerians these days are getting more educated about the things that hold their interests, and this includes airplanes, flight operations, and the activities of aviation agencies.
But what is the issue these days? Why does it seem like certain cabals of influence peddlers are hellbent on destroying what is left of the thin fabric holding the industry together?
I don’t understand some of the harsh condemnation I read, especially because both the Honourable Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, SAN, and the CEOs of the agencies only just assumed office.
Yes, there was rot in the system. Yes, a lot of work needs to be done per infrastructure, regulations, enforcement, incentives, ease of business, etc.
But the rot was here before the new leadership was appointed.
One would think that the logical thing to do would be to offer a hand of friendship and collaboration to the new leadership, discuss what the challenges have been, and find effective ways to shake up the system and cause change.
To spend every waking day attacking a brand new leadership that needs time to first understand the multi-faceted problems before dealing with them is witchcraft in my books. It is a symptom of something more sinister in the mind of the critic. It is not the patriotism that their words are veiled to appear as.
Airlines are struggling. Passengers are suffering despite paying top naira to travel. The aviation regulatory agency and umpire, the NCAA, under the leadership of Capt. Chris Najomo is going through a transition just as its parent ministry is too.
The way I see it, both entities have hit the ground running because aviation cannot be halted while trying to solve inherent problems and issues that were met on assumption of office.
No matter how experienced you are, you cannot tell a man—or woman—that they have failed before they even started work.
I have seen instances where all that was needed to cause true change was political will and fearlessness. I have seen the most unlikely people turn things around even in industries in sharp contrast with their core competence because of their administrative acumen and the ability to organize manpower and finances fairly. I have also seen highly respected and ‘experienced’ folk fail woefully.
In Keyamo, Najomo, and most of the recently appointed CEOs domicile zeal, the unmistakable passion to make a difference.
The earliest they should have enjoyed everyone’s support before being placed on the slab of industry critics is eight months. Even that should only happen if they don’t pay attention to stakeholders.
But here they are, holding meetings with critical stakeholders, asking the right questions, and seeking solutions. I understand that it is not possible to please everybody at once, and even the most objective critic can be impatient when it comes to waiting, but this is an industry where everything needs to be done carefully because the collateral damage for every tiny error is human lives, huge financial losses, and loss of public trust.
I penned this piece at 4 a.m. because I have stayed up all night, bewildered by some of the avoidable stuff I have read in the last couple of months.
Look, even the most profound critic needs a moment of self-reflection. Why do I do this? How am I helping with what I condemn? Are my words the right words? Will they cause the change I seek or destroy the relationships that are necessary for the collective growth of this industry? Do I speak the truth, and am I fair when I speak? Most importantly, when I am also put under the microscope, how well have I done for the industry?
There is time for everything, and now is not the time to fight. It is time to unite with a common purpose and fix the aviation industry. In doing so, not everybody will be satisfied. As a matter of fact, no new leadership can fix it all. But what can happen is that the Keyamo-led leadership can deal with the inherited root causes and lay the foundation of a brand new aviation industry, one that can then be improved upon in the near future.
I have interacted with the new CEOs. The enigmatic young lady at FAAN and the amiable dude at NSIB have something to prove. And this is the motivator here: to prove themselves worthy of such a lofty opportunity. I believe that they will succeed.
Like Keyamo, this crop of CEOs operates an open-door policy, and stakeholders should take advantage of this. Thankfully, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has made aviation the crux of his economic plans, and he was wise to select Festus Keyamo as aviation minister. He has faith in him but has also shown that he will bite if his performance is below average.
Offer advice and allow the team to get to work. It is too early to wake up to nothing but condemnation for problems not caused by yourself. It is demoralizing and unnecessary.
There is criticism and there is witchcraft. Choose your choice with wisdom; otherwise, your subjectivity will lose its perceived value sooner than later. History proves this.
Michael Achimugu is the Director of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection at NCAA