*Plaudits for Jonathan's Aviation Reforms*
By Chika Onuora
It is rare in these climes to have opposition politicians praise the performance of a government in power. Many people believe all they should do is criticize government, except when it is obvious the government has scored so high in any given field, in which case they simply keep mum.
In Nigeria, this democratic absurdity has been elevated to a new height by the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). So when one of its leading lights, Honourable Abike Dabiri, a member of the House of Representatives went on a tangent to hail the massive transformation the aviation sector has recorded under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, it raised so much interest.
In one of her regular trips from Abuja to Lagos, she said despite the aspersion being heaped on the Jonathan administration, it has made Nigerians proud in the way aviation sector has been transformed in the past few years.
Dabiri's endorsement of the aviation sector reforms is not an isolated case; like many people across Nigeria, Joseph Oyebanji who has been resident in United Kingdom for the past thirty years, shares the same opinion. When he visited last year, after being away for the better part of ten years, he could hardly believe what he saw at the renovated Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, and he said so in no uncertain terms. What he saw, in spectacle and services, were in sharp contrast to his previous experiences.
The scenario painted above has been the feelings of most Nigerians towards the massive transformation going on in the aviation sector. Even for Jonathan's worst critics –like Dabiri's APC leadership – the aviation reforms have been impressive. No doubt the transformation of the aviation sector is viewed by any objective mind as one of the administration's defining projects. For the first time in Nigeria, a master-plan is being implemented in the aviation sector which not only improves the aesthetics of the nation's tourism gate-ways, it is equally impacting positively on the quality of service as well as safety of the airspace.
There has been a radical revision of the Civil Aviation National Policy for the first time in over 12 years, with the result that all 22 federally-owned airports across the country are being remodeled, resulting in improved passenger experience. This is the first of its kind in terms of magnitude in the past three decades, but easily the high point of the ongoing industry reform is the simultaneous construction or reconstruction of five modern international passenger terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.
Not only is there a massive remodeling of these airports across the nation, their obsolete and often embarrassing power and safety infrastructure are being replaced or upgraded. For instance, fire fighting infrastructures at the airports are being upgraded with state-of-the-art fire-fighting equipment across the nation's airports.
Security equipment in all the airports in the country have been replaced or upgraded to cope with the emerging security challenges in the country. Not only has an Accident Investigation and Analysis Laboratory been installed in Nigeria, it is the only one in the West African sub region and one of the only four in the entire African continent.
The issue of safety has always been a major problem to Nigerians who are in the habit of flying- the major reason Jonathan ordered the restructuring of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority NCAA to expand and promote safety oversight, surveillance and human capital development in the industry. According to Captain Dele Ore, an aviation expert, the restructuring being carried out at the NCAA gives one joy that we are for once getting it right in the aviation sector. “President Jonathan should be commended for being courageous to embark on such exercise because it has earned us respect among our competitors in the aviation industry across the globe”, he said.
The aviation sector under the Jonathan administration has been able to streamline the General Aviation (GA) to eliminate unauthorized commercial operations, promote scheduled airline profitability and safety. The administration has been able to eliminate the unfavourable concession and lease agreements that were inconsistent with the public interest, industry growth and advancement. It is on record that in his usual commitment to empowering the private sector, Jonathan has for the past three years encouraged the promotion of private sector and international investors' participation in the now-lucrative Nigerian aviation sector.
Since the history of aviation in this country, this is the first time some hitherto unknown airports scattered across the nation are being given face lift. Six of them, namely Jos, Makurdi, Yola, Jalingo, Lagos and Ilorin which are strategically located in proximity to food baskets have been designated as perishable cargo airports and international standards perishable cargo facilities are rapidly being developed at these airports. Because of this innovation, the administration has approved the development of a Cargo Development Division and the appropriate authority in the aviation sector has been directed to do the necessary thing towards realizing the objectives for which they were set up.
Aviation experts are of the opinion that the kinds of transformation witnessed in the sector have attracted investors who are ready to put in their moneys because the right infrastructure has been provided. If the previous administrations before Jonathan had done the needful, the sector would have gone far in meeting the parameters in global standards. That is why the plaudits from Nigerians from all shades of platforms, including politicians of the 'opposition' stock, have become more significant. It becomes even more so with much promise that the ongoing improvement will be sustained and even improved upon if the President gets the chance of a second term.
Onuora sent in this piece from Abuja.