To say the newly appointed minister of aviation and aerospace development, Mr Festus Egwarewa Keyamo has hit the ground running in his mandate to not only manage the affairs of the country’s aviation sector for the next four years and reposition it for greatness, may not be an understatement after all in view of his body language towards achieving the objective during his tour of the Murtala Muhamed International Airport, Lagos.
Keyamo who arrived the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) headquarters in Lagos Thursday morning and received by the FAAN management led by the Managing Director, Mr Kabir Muhamed, first interacted with the aviation unions who welcomed him to the Lagos airport with solidarity songs and expressed their support for him.
After some interactions with the FAAN management and the unions, the job of the day, the tour commenced in earnest with a visit to the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) where the minister was taken round the major facilities by the managing director of FAAN.
From the countenance on the face of the minister, his perception is divided about the state of the facilities there. As the FAAN MD and his team struggled to explain some points to the minister, he did not hide his displeasure at some untidy structures adorning the GAT, making him to issue deadlines to the FAAN officials to correct the anomalies and report back to him.
From the GAT, the tour took the minister and his entourage to the critical areas at the international wing of the airport where he had the opportunity to access some unfinished projects, the controversial old terminal building which he described as an eyesore that requires total overhaul. The minister who could not hide his dissatisfaction with the structural deficit adorning the old terminal building instantly announced plans to temporarily shut down the old terminal for total overhaul. According to the minister, to achieve this, the only alternative available for international flights to continue has been found in the hitherto under-utilized multi billion naira new terminal building at the international airport.
Here, the minister voiced out his dismay just like many Nigerians over the failure of the then government who was behind the construction of such a gigantic edifice that could have been compared to similar ones across the world but lacked the required aviobridges that should be linked to wide body aircraft after taxing to stop.
According to the minister; “The major complaint of Nigerians or foreigners coming into the country has been about the old terminal. That terminal is an eyesore. And we have this old terminal that the Chinese built. Nigerians have been asking why the new terminal is not put into use. The simple reason is that I don’t know how this new terminal was designed. It has no provision to take big planes. I don’t know how it happened. I’ve been asking questions about how they would design an international gateway like the Lagos terminal without a provision to take the big planes; it doesn’t have the aviobridges that can link to the big planes. That has been the reason why we have not been using this new terminal and that’s why Nigerians have been asking that question.
“Meanwhile 60 per cent of the revenue of FAAN comes from the Lagos Airport. The Lagos gateway is one of the major gateways into the country. So what is the solution to this? We have said we must use what we have for now. I’m giving the international and all the other airlines up to October 1 to move from the old terminal to the new terminal. What we are going to do temporarily is that we are going to shut down the old terminal and sort out all the issues regarding the renovation of the old terminal.
There are issues already on the ground before I came; concession and all of that. For now I have suspended all of that until I brief the president as to what is happening regarding all those noises going on, including the issue of the Nigeria Air. I have given them the directive to suspend everything until I brief Mr President fully. The duty I owe Mr President is honesty; he brought me here and for me to correctly advise him. “For now the temporary arrangement we want to make and for the comfort of Nigerians we have to find a way to use the new terminal built by the Chinese even without the big planes coming in because there are no aviobridges for them to use and the gate bridges for the passengers to pass. So like it’s done in many other countries we are going to do emergency procurement to buy big buses. So we are going to put them in buses and move them to where the big planes stop in an orderly fashion, both the arrival and departure so that Nigerians can have some sort of comfort with this new facility.
” Our long term plan is that we are going to find a way to build aviobridges for the big planes coming in and that means that some of those private hangars will have to go for public purpose. If we have to do anything for them we will relocate them so that we can have a beautiful and functional gateway to Nigerians. Right now I’m giving them up to the 1st of October to shut down the old terminal so that we can use this new terminal by this arrangement.”
From all what transpired during the tour, it may not be business as usual not only for the different agencies, but all other principal actors as the minister has not hidden his mandate which he said is purposely to defend Nigerians.
Coming from his background as a lawyer, it may become difficult for any of the principal actors to flout any laws and get away with it as he has vowed during the tour to prevent any violation of the rules guiding seamless air transport in the country.
Therefore, to say there is a new sherif in town may not be an exaggeration as the minister may not be succumbing to any cheap blackmail by any one trying to use connection or even the judiciary to stand on his way to carry out the mission of the government in the sector.
This became evident in his stance on the abandoned aircraft littering the Lagos airport which he said should be removed. Several attempts made in the past by the FAAN management to get the disused aircraft out of the airport were frustrated by the airline owners who rushed to obtain court judgments which hindered the FAAN from evacuating the abandoned aircraft despite the dangers they pose to the airport and the users.
Relief may however be on the way as the minister in view of his background I’d well equipped to interprete the laws to get judgement for FAAN to subsequently get the aircraft out of the airport.
The tour of the private terminal otherwise known as MMA2 at the local wing of the Lagos airport may also be a sign of good things to come between the management of the private terminal and FAAN after years of unresolved disagreement over the number of years the terminal should be run as a private entity.
From all indications, the minister may also use his tenure to review some unpopular policies of the previous administration among which are the controversial Airports concession plan and the Nigeria Air project.
According to the minister, all the projects have been put on hold to enable him study them and guide the government on the way forward.
Without doubt, issues in the sector can never remain the same again as the minister does not look like someone who can easily be cajoled or deceived into taking actions that will jeopardise the country’s interest and end up embarrassing the country.
All hands are on the deck to see how the minister intend to steer the ship of the ailing sector. Considering his background, hopes are very high amongst stakeholders within and out of the sector that the minister will reset the unpopular policies that had before now dragged the sector backward.