Early this year, I visited the residence of an elder brother of mine, Senator Yisa Braimoh, in Abuja on his invitation, for us to meet minds on some issues connected to his political engagements in Edo State. Those close to the senator, who represented Edo North in the Senate from 2007 to 2011, would attest to his brilliance on a vast majority of issues, more especially those that are aviation sector-related.
His bias for the aviation sector is historical: he was Director of Communications Engineering and Automation for Nigeria Airways; Advisor to IATA (Montreal Canada) on Aviation Communication and the Nairobi-based Regional Director for Africa for SITA Airlines Worldwide Communications from late 70s to early 90s, from where he retired into politics and private business.
During his early political odyssey, he was opportune to work as special adviser to Bashir Dalhatu as Aviation and Transportation Minister. Therefore, Braimoh is in a good stead to understand and appraise the workings of the aviation sector. When he made some passing comments about the wonderful performance of the current Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, I wondered what that had got to do with the reason I was in his house. I was not, in the least, interested in the topic.
“Sufuyan, my brother, I do not know Stella Oduah, the aviation minister and I do not care where she came from and how she landed the aviation minister’s job; she has, no doubt, taken the aviation sector by storm. President Jonathan did not make any mistake in appointing her into his cabinet to take charge of the aviation ministry. What is surprising is that she does not seem to have any prior experience or background in the aviation sector.
“But have you seen what this woman is doing in the sector? Have you seen the transformation, the remodeling going on in our airports, especially the international airports, and the critical safety infrastructure being built? It is incredible. Her unique achievement is that she has recorded the greatest transformation in the aviation sector since 1979 when Obasanjo initially revolutionized the sector with the commissioning of the MMIA, Ikeja; and with the proposed “aerotropolis’ billed for commissioning in five airports across the country next year, Stella Odua would be headed for the Hall of Fame in the sector. My brother Sufuyan, these are the things seasoned journalists like you should write about.”
I remember, now, this encounter with Braimoh amid the ballyhoo that has greeted the sector in the aftermath of the recent Associated Airline’s plane crash that killed 15 persons in Lagos and the caustic attacks on the minister by a former Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode. I found it curious that Fani-Kayode’s criticisms could tend to make nonsense of the dispassionate expert views, offered gratis, by Braimoh about February, this year. I did some reasoning by putting Braimoh and Fani-Kayode in contexts as to their backgrounds and current partisan interests in the sector.
The conclusion I came to was simple: Braimoh probably does not have any pecuniary interest in the aviation sector as currently administered and I stand to be corrected; but Fani-Kayode certainly has an axe to grind with the Jonathan administration, which is the reason he has embarked on sustained criticisms of the person and administration of the president. And because he was once Minister of Aviation (for about seven months from 2006 to 2007), during which short time no crash was recorded, Fani-Kayode has gleefully seized the bully pulpit to harangue Stella Oduah, a Jonathan appointee, bandying in the process a tenuous and spurious claim of non-performance by the minister.
I may not like Fani-Kayode for his sometimes outright banal criticism and resort to argumentum ad-hominem, but I certainly do like him for his brilliance. I like him for his humaneness. I also cherish his devotion to the God of the Bible, the Merciful Provider and Protector of the destinies of men and nations. He cannot know this God without being able to pray. Perhaps, it was Fani-Kayode’s prayers that went up as a sweet smelling savour to God in Heaven who decided to grant journey mercy in the Nigerian airspace for those seven months he was minister.
Truth is, it could also have been share fluke that there was no crash during his short tenure. After all, there were no air crashes for the about two years (1999-2001) the late Dr Olusegun Agagu was Aviation minister. Regardless, my brother Fani-Kayode has thumped his chest in self congratulations and glorification while condemning Stella Oduah for insensitive and poor leadership of the sector because of a number of crashes that have unfortunately happened under her watch.
Now, I consider the rumour of sacrifice insinuated into the crashes as wicked, unfair and outright ungodly. This insidious tale was designed to portray the current leadership of the aviation ministry as perhaps cultic, while his (Fani-Kayode) was ecclesiastically transcendental. The collateral damage intended is that under Stella Oduah’s watch, air safety has taken flight and crashes were bound to and might likely continue to happen regardless of efforts at emplacing technological infrastructure aimed at bolstering safety in our flying space. But feelers from the sector about institutional achievements point to the fact that Stella Oduah is the first to have recorded the most tremendous transformation in recent years in the aviation sector within a short time of stepping in the saddle; that there have been a number of crashes cannot possibly detract from that fact.
The point must be made that contrary to claims in some circles, the integrity of the nation’s airspace has not been hopelessly compromised by these crashes. Government’s interventions, facilitated by Stella Oduah, have manifested in the volume and worth of critical safety equipment and infrastructure that have been emplaced. In the last two years, and which was the point Senator Braimoh made during my visit to his house, the minister has demonstrated rare leadership by remodeling airport terminals across the country. She has established the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON), which is very effective; the Instrument Landing System (ILS), the Airfield Lighting and Multi-Lateration (MLAT) equipment and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) Doppler Weather Radars.
Her leadership has also birthed the Wind Shear Alert Systems, Accident Investigation and Prevention (AIPB) Scientific Laboratory, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) state-of-the-art training equipment and simulators as well as Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) revised aviation policy, all of which are geared towards safety in the nation’s air space. These are multi-billion naira improvement, with great value for money, which is more than mere terminal rehabilitation as paranoid critics would want Nigerians to believe. These are remarkable achievements which future administrations can incrementally build on.
Interestingly, in his piece that stirred this raging controversy, Fani-Kayode had argued, in part, that “other than sheer hard work, insistence on full compliance with safety standards and the display of the most rigorous form of discipline from the top to the bottom, in order to break these patterns and cycles of crashes and protect our skies, much prayer and intercession is required….” A friend added a rather interesting dimension to the discourse: “if Fani-Kayode’s prayers were that effective to avert crashes, why were they not near efficacious to forestall mismanagement of the N19.5 billion Aviation Intervention Fund and other malfeasance for which an ad-hoc committee of the senate indicted him and some of his predecessors. Was he not banned for five years from holding any public office by the Senate and did the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) not charge him to court in accordance?”
He said he had thought that a righteous public officer who could pray crashes from our air space for seven months like Fani-Kayode would run away from the corruptive god of mammon so that his prayers to the Holy God would not be hindered? But that God still heard his prayer, as he claimed, in the midst of the pervading systemic corruption and hypocrisy, speaks volume about His sure mercy. For me, really, this is a moot point in the discourse of the nexus between official corruption and answered or unanswered prayers in relation to happenstance. What Nigeria needs most in the aviation sector is the critical safety equipment with aviation infrastructure that will make air crashes very rare in Nigeria, not prayers by corrupt officialdom.
But I agree with Fani-Kayode only to the extent that prayers for safety in our skies by travelling public are only complementary. Therefore, if faced with choosing between Stella’s approach, to wit: provision of aviation safety equipment, which is tangible, and Fani-Kayode’s approach-prayer-which is celestial, I will settle for the former, which is more fundamental. Overall, prayer will not be discounted even though it is whimsical; but it will be imprudent not to give premium attention to technological innovations that have scientifically secured flying spaces in developed countries.
• Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja.