8 September 2017

Nigeria: Raging Controversy in Aviation

Criticisms have continued to trail the appointment and deployment of staff of the aviation industry since President Muhammadu Buhari came into power. But the latest reorganisation is stormier than ever as it continues to reverberate due to perceived injustice in the exercise.

There is a resounding debate and arguments perforating daily activities at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); though in hushed tones, as Hajia Salamatu Umar-Elumah, the erstwhile Director of Human Resources and Administration of the agency was deployed to Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB).

The media is awash with reports that the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, removed a seasoned aviator as the Director of Human Resources and replaced her with a car dealer whose only knowledge of aviation before now, was walking to the airport to take his flights.

Some people were shocked about the deployment of Umar-Elumah and her replacement in FAAN. Many who spoke to THISDAY argued that the minister had the right to remove or deploy anybody but they admitted that Umar-Elumah deployment was in very bad taste.

A top official in the aviation sector, who asked not to be named said: "What I can say is that the minister just decided to show his power and his action could be described as intimidation because not only that the woman (Umar-Elumah) has put in 17 years in her job in FAAN, she was duly employed after due process and she rose from the ranks to become a director. Hers was not a political appointment. I recall when the former Director of Aviation Security, Mr. Wendell Ogunedo was still in FAAN, he was not removed when a new Minister came because he rose from the ranks and when he had put in 35 years, his appointment was extended because he had not reached 60 years in service. The appointments made then did not affect him. This woman is 52 years and still has eight years in service."

He added: "By removing her from FAAN and sending her to AIB just for ego trip, the minister just wanted to show his power. He knows full well that this will affect her gratuity and pension after putting so many years in service. However, nobody can question whether he has the right to do what he did because the undercurrents have hijacked the civil service rules and brought politics into the system. But we gathered that Umar-Elumah is very close to the first family and Sirika knows this; so he just wanted to snub that relationship and that is exactly what he has done," an aviation insider told THISDAY.

Many of the workers and some union officials in FAAN are rebuffing the recent appointment and saying that even though the minister had the right to appoint directors, he must appoint somebody with cognac experience that should help the agency to grow; and not a liability.

Over the years, aviation labour unions have belaboured themselves over issues concerning appointing non-professionals in the aviation agencies which are highly dependent on technical skills. At a time labour gave up on the argument that appointment of directors is political, which means that a worker who started work as Level 8 officer could only rise to the position of General Manager. Any appointment above that is deemed political.

But discretionarily, many of the past ministers usually picked their directors from those who had been in the industry, some retired, some moved on from the industry and some still on the job; only few were brought in from outside and they headed commercial areas of the agencies. But industry observers said that what is peculiarly different with Sirika's appointments is that many of his appointees never had aviation experience, adding, besides the appointment of directors, Sirika extended the appointment of non aviators to the rank of general managers and assistant general managers.

A senior labour official in FAAN told THISDAY that the ambition of an officer in FAAN or any of the aviation agencies is to rise to the position of the general manager because any office above that is politicised and at the whimsy of the minister. He lamented that recent arbitrary appointments deflate any hope that even such staff may rise to become a General Manager.

"He works hard, adheres to the rules, commits himself to his job but if at the time that person is reaching his peak, you bring an outsider to put at that position he is aspiring to be, what do you think will happen to his morale? What do you think will happen to the attitude of those before him? Do you think he would be dedicated like his seniors who were denied that position of aspiration?" the labour official rhetorically asked.

The recently appointments made by the minister affected the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) where he approved the appointment, promotion and redeployment of top management staff of the agency with immediate effect. According to a circular issued by the Ministry of Transportation, Farouk A Umar was confirmed as substantive Director of Safety Electronics and Engineering Service just as Mr. Gabriel Akpen who was until now the General Manager, Search and Rescue/Civil Military Co-ordination was elevated to Director of Operations. The Directorates of Human Resources and Administration have equally been merged, with former General Manager, Customer Services/Servicom, Maira Bashir taking over as Director of Human Resources and Administration. In the same vein, Mr. Umoh Aniefiok, formerly of the Finance and Accounts Department at FAAN was redeployed to NAMA as Director of Finance and Accounts while Mr. Khalid Udoh Emele is to head the Public Affairs Department of the agency as General Manager.

Reacting to this appointment and other appointments, a senior official of FAAN told THISDAY that the agency does not know the pedigree of some of the appointees, especially the one that headed accounts and the one that would be succeeding him.

"When Umoh came, labour protested vehemently against his appointment and the minister changed his appointment from substantive official to contract; but he has now been taken to NAMA as Director of Finance and Accounts. But what is surprising about the appointments is that some personnel who were Deputy General Managers sat for exams and after they took exams to be promoted as General Managers, some people were brought from outside to take those positions. One of such persons is Kabiru Mohammed who has been appointed General Manager, Accounts," the official said.

Some industry sources insist that Umar-Elumah was removed in the ego trip to whittle some powers in the big game of family fight among the current power brokers and noted that the Minister may be thriving in the animosity the deployment has created.

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