Lagos — Monday, the aviation industry woke up to a shocker from the federal government that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) head, Dr Harold Demuren was relieved of his position. How did the industry receive the news of the sack?
The federal government on March 11 announced the removal of the embattled Director General of NCAA with immediate effect. In a statement signed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, the government said Demuren's sack was caused by his failure to give a "satisfactory response" to stakeholders in the aviation sector.
The three-paragraph statement read: "Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has approved the removal of Dr Harold Olusegun Demuren from office as the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with effect from 12th March 2013.
"This is consequent upon a careful consideration of Dr Demuren's unsatisfactory response to the numerous concerns of stakeholders in the aviation sector."
Demuren had survived several calls for his sack in the past - calls from both chambers of the National Assembly following reports from their probe of the Dana Air crash on June 3rd, 2012.
Investigations by both chambers of parliament had blamed the NCAA for regulatory lapses thus compromising safety in the industry. This led to the insistence by the House of Representatives for his sack.
Before his sack, it was rumoured penultimate week that Demuren had been asked to proceed on terminal leave. Demuren whose first five-year tenure in office expired in February 2012, didn't have his tenure renewed. However, his tenure was extended by the Ministry of Aviation.
The Special Assistant (Media) to the Minister of Aviation, Mr Joe Obi at a time said Demuren's tenure was extended for a reason. Obi explained, "Demuren has been given 90 days extension in office to allow certain formalities to be completed. The government does not want vacuum in the leadership of that agency hence the extension.
"Approval must come from the presidency for whoever will occupy that office. So the 90 days will allow the processes to be completed. It might be Demuren, it might be someone else. But for now, effectively, he is still in the office."
Following his sack, obviously, it wouldn't be Dr. Demuren anymore. Already, President Goodluck Jonathan has nominated Capt. Fola Akinkuotu as the new Director General of the regulatory body. The president wrote the Senate requesting the confirmation of the nominee who is the Rector of the College of Aviation in Ilorin, capital of central Kwara State. The letter was read on the floor of the Senate by its President, David Mark, Thursday.
Demuren's major legacies
Under Demuren, Nigeria never recorded major crash until the last June incident. Many thumbed up for him saying there was proper supervision from the NCAA. Some wished he had left while the ovation was loudest.
During his tenure, in 2010, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Nigeria its top air-safety rating, Category 1 status, which allows Nigerian airlines to fly directly to the United States. The US had put a ban on direct flights from Murtala Muhammed Airport in the 1990s over security concerns.
How industry players reacted to Demuren's sack
Chainman of Aviation Round Table (ART) Captain Dele Ore noted that the decision to sack Demuren was quite unfortunate. Ore added that Demuren was a reputable Director General of NCAA because he helped in sustaining the sector and ensuring that there were no crashes in the Nigerian airspace for about five years.
According to him, he deserved to be treated better than this by the government. "Why do Nigerians take delights in killing their own heroes? I believe it's a very bad thing that government has done," he said.
Similarly, the Assistant General Secretary of Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Alhaji Mohammed Tukur said the sack of Demuren was unfortunate because government had no genuine reasons for the action stressing that the reason adduced was rather flimsy.
"Government said he was not listening to stakeholders. If I may ask, which stakeholders? President Jonathan only gave in to the pressure from Senators and members of the House of Representatives just to keep his government going," he noted.
Tukur added, stakeholders in the aviation industry were happy with the former NCAA DG. "Dr Demuren served the aviation industry well and brought it to where it is today. We know how the industry was. We used to use torchlight on the tarmac during maintenance of aircraft. Demuren came and changed all this. He did well and we are going to miss him. Demuren's sack is politically motivated," he quipped.
The chairman Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) FAAN Branch, Comrade Ekanem Ekanem warned government not to plunge the aviation industry into darkness.
Mr Ben Okewu, National President, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) expressed shock that Demuren could be removed unceremoniously in spite of the transformation he brought to the aviation industry. "Under his leadership, both passengers and international regulatory bodies began to repose confidence in the aviation sector in Nigeria," he said.
Okewu wondered why Demuren was not allowed to complete the processes he initiated, aimed at enhancing safety of aircraft during flights. Stakeholders hoped the new DG can take the industry to greater heights.
The man Demuren
Demuren was recruited from the United States of America to join the Federal Ministry of Aviation, Nigeria in 1976 as Senior Airworthiness Surveyor and rose to become Assistant Director, Airworthiness in June 1989.
On the creation of the defunct Federal Civil Aviation Authority in 1990, he was appointed Deputy Director Air Transport, Economic Regulations and Licensing. He rose to become the Director Safety Services in 1991.
In late 2005, there was a loss of confidence in air travel and apathy in the aviation industry as two fatal air disasters in a span of seven weeks left the nation mourning. The two incidents were Bellview Airlines flight 210 that killed all 117 people on board on October 22, and Sosoliso Airlines flight 1145 that killed 105 of 108 passengers, including 61 students from Loyola Jesuit College on December 10, 2005.
Following these tragic events, the federal government sought Demuren to head the NCAA in late December 2005, to revamp, reposition and restore confidence in domestic air travel.
After his appointment, Demuren immediately took on the challenge of reforming the Nigerian aviation sector and restoring the lost confidence to the Industry drawing up a strategic short, medium and long term plan anchored on Safety, Security and Satisfaction (consumer) in that order of priority.
On August 23, 2010, NCAA attained American Federal Aviation Administration International Aviation Safety Assessment (FAA IASA) Category One Certification. This allows direct flights from Nigeria to Continental United States (USA). There are now several direct flights between Nigeria and the US destinations including Atlanta, New York and Washington DC.
On September 28, 2010, Demuren was elected as the president of the 37th General Assembly of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) held in Montreal, Canada from 28 September to 8 October 2010. The appointment was unanimously endorsed by all the delegates of the 190 contracting states of the ICAO.
His emergence made history as the first time an African was elected to preside over the ICAO General Assembly, the United Nations global aviation agency. The assembly passed landmark policies on global Aviation Safety, Aviation Security and the Environment for the Industry.