Disaster looms in Nigeria’s airspace

…as leadership crisis rocks NAMA


IT’S exactly two weeks today since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) whisked the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Engr. Ibrahim Abdulsalam, along with three other top management staff of the agency over allegations of fraud and recklessness in the management of the agency’s finances. Since then, there have been reported cases of strife and jostling over who takes the top seat, downplaying the critical role of the agency in air safety.

Investigation has shown that the EFCC was instigated against Abdulsalam and co by some power thirsty individuals in the agency, who felt it was time the current APC government discharge the leadership in NAMA and other agencies to allow for its party loyalists. Sources have disclosed that this has been a common trend in the industry, using the expression “soldier go, soldier come.”

Abdulsalam was appointed on March 3rd, 2014 by the Jonathan administration. Though insiders could argue that the agency fared well under his watch, his loyalty to the former government and Stella Oduah, the then Aviation Minister, has put him in the centre of criticism since the current Buhari’s regime took saddle.

It was gathered that the petition that led to the anti-graft commission questioning of the top management staff was generated in-house by a faction who had severally attempted to remove some key management staff via industrial actions but failed. They finally took advantage of his gentleman approach to handling internal crises and set him up with barrage of allegations, hoping the anti-graft agents will crucify him.

Should Abdulsalam be prosecuted or not, remains with the EFCC but now that he’s not yet left off the hook, the agency is thrown into confusion already as to who emerges his successor. Meanwhile, the critical role of managing the nation’s airspace is dangerously threatened. National Daily gathered that a cabal made up of professionals, who are bent on having their member on the highest seat of the agency’s boardroom have been threatening to shut down the agency should the Federal Government appoints someone outside the cabal to steer the affairs of the agency, oblivious of the fact that their action is capable of disrupting air safety.

ALSO SEE: EFCC whisked NAMA boss, others over 5bn fraud

Even though the Hon. Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, gave clear directives on Tuesday 16th February, 2016 to Engr. Emmanuel Anasi (Acting Director of Safety Electronics and Engineering Services) to oversee the affairs of the Agency for the time being, the crisis hasn’t calmed as other factions are disagreeing with the choice of Anasi and insisting it must be someone with the requisite experience, who has put a lot of years in service.

Already, various bodies have come out to start seeking the replacement of the MD with either a new substantive professional or someone of the same calibre in an acting capacity. All this going down after the agency just happened to have had two acting managing directors in less than a week.

First, on February 20, 2016, a coalition comprised of Aviation Union and Professional association have called for the appointment of a substantive Managing Director for the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to address what is looking like looming unrest that, if unchecked, may derail the agency and truncate safety.

The group in a statement signed by its spokesman, Johnson Agbede and made available to the media stated that if urgent steps are not taken to normalise the situation things could go from bad to worse as workers in the agency do not know whom to take directive from.
A day later, the Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) also threw its weight behind the call citing professional reasons, they said that government should hasten the ongoing investigation of the agency and appointment of a substantive Managing Director or immediately appoint in acting capacity, a competent person equally qualified to be appointed as Managing Director

This they posited is in accordance with the provision of NAMA Establishment Act No.48 Part IV section 8 subsection 2(d) of 1999 (a person who possesses relevant and adequate professional qualifications in a senior management cadre and shall have been so qualified for a period of not less than fifteen years.).”

ALSO SEE: FG appoints Anasi acting NAMA boss

According to a statement signed by NATCA President, Victor Eyaru and the general Secretary, OlawodeBanji read, “Due to the sensitivity and peculiarity of NAMA as an Air Navigation Service Provider, pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigations or appointment of a substantive Managing Director, the Federal government should immediately appoint, in acting capacity, a competent person equally qualified to be appointed as Managing Director in accordance with the provision of NAMA Establishment Act No.48 Part IV section 8 subsection 2(d) of 1999 (a person who possesses relevant and adequate professional qualifications in a senior management cadre and shall have been so qualified for a period of not less than fifteen years.).”

“This is to stem the ongoing leadership crisis due to appointment of two persons as Acting Managing Director within a week and in the interest of air safety. NAMA is a very strategic agency that should not be headed by anyone without both technical knowledge and proven administrative expertise in Air Navigation Service Provision (ANSP) under whatever circumstance to avoid any costly decision that could compromise air safety and spell disaster for the whole country; “this was their stand coupled with professional requests.
However, our source claimed that some disgruntled misfits in the agency has turned the situation into a media war as they have engaged consultants to spread falsehood and mischief though cooked documents were being circulated to the press for media trial.

“It is unfortunate that we have this situation in NAMA. We are not saying the agency is a place of saints but what we are saying is that the managing director and some of the officers in the management cadre had done a lot for the organisation in terms of development,” another staff pointed out

The concerned staff noted that the managing director for instance had since assuming office, conserved funds for project development by curbing wastage. If he is a greedy type he would have made money from the areas where he ensureda that there was no unnecessary spending. For instance, he ensured that the Airfield lighting project was returned to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria to reduce the spending of the agency.
Engr. Abdulsalam who was described as being modest and prudent in spending not to jeopardise staff welfare was said to have saved over 300,000 Euros for the nation from the maintenance of TRACON by deploying NAMA engineers to handle radar maintenance last year alone. The federal government had hitherto spent a whooping two million naira annually on same in four years.

“In NAMA, due process is highly respected in the award of contracts. The managing director is one of the most prudent managers the agency has had so far. He campaigns seriously for documentation of contracts and finances each time there is a management meeting. So we are surprised to hear that the EFCC invited him for questioning over alleged fraud,” the statement posed.

But now that NAMA is seemingly without a leader, who will exert influence and control over the existing factions, duties will be taken for granted, not minding safety of air travelers. The agency is currently being threatened by the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) over proposed plan to merge the Aeronautics Information Service (AIS) department and Communications department of the agency.

The union had protested to the headquarters of NAMA on Thursday, declaring that it was only sounding a warning to the agency to stop the merger plan, Organising Secretary of NUATE, Mr. Augustus Aroleyo, told newsmen. According to him, the agency had refused to implement the 2013 amendment 37 Annex 15 to effect NAMA as an Air Navigational Services Provider (ANSP) affirming that the agency was yet to meet up with that requirement.

The union demanded the immediate completion of AIS automation which was approved by the Federal Government since 2008 as well as the immediate transition of AFTN to AMHS as it is being practiced globally in which Nigeria is a signatory to. It also mandated NAMA management to improve the working conditions of AIS and Communications departments for effective discharge of their duties and for the creation of a Directorate for the two departments to work together as claimed by the management.

Clearly, the agency may continue to suffer such restive incidences. But while it lasts, safety of air travelers is actually under threat.