NIGERIA: SENSE AND NONSENSE OF NEW AVIATION RULE

Stella Odua, the self -styled Princess from Anambra state is Nigeria's minister of Aviation. She gained her appointment from President Good luck Jonathan soon after her political platform-the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] emerged victorious from the bitterly contested Presidential election of April 2011. The profoundly beautiful lady is credited for been the brain behind the well- funded but innovative campaign strategic machinery of the then incumbent and Presidential candidate Good Luck Jonathan, a holder of doctor of Philosophy in zoology from the prestigious University of Port Harcourt, River State.

Stella Odua's well-oiled and formidably -funded campaign outfit for Jonathan before the 2011 election was known as Neighbor-to-Neighbor campaign and this machinery churned out many beautiful campaign slogans that were as beautiful as the pioneer principal of the group-Stella Odua. This aviation minister is also credited with the erection of some beautiful edifices in the nation's major Airports for which critics have raised alarm that the construction costs were allegedly inflated, an allegation that she has robustly refuted.

But of late, this beautiful minister is also credited with introducing some very ugly, odious and grossly subjective and partisan aviation rules and policies that are widely seen as targeted at the most visible political opponent of the President who happens to be the governor of River state- Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.

The ugliest of the policies introduced by the hierarchy of the nation's ministry of aviation ironically headed by the beautiful minister, remains the controversial grounding over clearly politically-motivated motives, of the private aircraft belonging to the River state government which has being used over the past few months by the governor of River state to attend to state and national functions such as junketing to Abuja for various political and economic meetings on issues affecting his state and the Nigerian Governors Forum for which he was elected chairman over two years ago.

Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi's robust handling of his brief as the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum is seen as a political threat to the ambition of the current President to run for office again in 2015 because according to his [Jonathan's] political strategists, it will be politically incorrect and suicidal for the River state governor from the same geo-political zone with the President, to still hold such a high profile national symbolic office of chairman of Nigerian Governors' Forum which is visible enough to make him want to run for the highest office in the land since he would be winding up his second and final tenure as governor of River state. The subterranean and surreptitious moves to incapacitate the influence of the Nigerian Governors Forum was orchestrated at the highest political levels when the Presidency masterminded the formation of a faction of the Nigerian Governors Forum known ad PDP Governors Forum headed by a hand picked chairman and a die-hard supporter of President Jonathan.

From another equally political angle, the foot soldiers of the Federal Minister of Aviation have in the past few weeks orchestrated series of dramatic scenarios concerning the validity or otherwise of the airworthiness or otherwise of the new private jet, a Bombardier-BD700-1A11 [Global Express] owned by the government of state of River.

First, the Aviation officials committed a grave blunder when they refused to allow the aircraft to airlift the Governor of River state and the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives; Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; who flew into Akure, Ondo state from Imo state and had wanted to take off from the Akure Airport after attending the funeral of the late Deputy Governor of the sister Ekiti state. On discovering that their lie that the failure of the pilot of the aircraft to pay landing cost at the Akure Airport did not hold water, the aviation officials quickly allowed the jet to take off from Akure Airport but they soon went into the drawing board to map out other far-reaching stiffer penalties to be inflicted deeply on the River state governor who is seen in Abuja's political power circles as the Nigeria's new 'poster boy' of the opposition platforms that are warming up to give the incumbent President-Good luck Jonathan a run for his money come the 2015 Presidential poll.

The Nigerian aviation officials under the close supervision of the minister dug deep into the inner recesses of their bag of political tricks to manufacture other effective penalties that would inflict deeper political pains on the movement on the private jet of the River state government by the incumbent governor of River state. Of course, these aviation officials came up with the laughable excuse that because the private jet bought over a year ago by the River state government had flown in the Nigerian air space with allegedly forged custom papers, the Federal Government has decided to ground it permanently pending rectification of the so-called error which is considered seriously offensive to extant aviation regulations.

The grounding of the private jet belonging to the River state government with the intention to cripple the free movement of the River state governor and other officials has been roundly condemned as primitive show of brute force by the Presidency bent on teaching governor Amaechi some lessons on how and why not to oppose an incumbent President. But my question is whether officials that are reeling out these draconian policies targeted at perceived political adversaries of the current President are aware that Nigeria does not practice fascism but constitutional democracy?

Worried that the torrents of criticism that trailed the grounding of the private jet belonging to the River state government was weighing down so much in the court of public opinion against the President, his retinue of spokesmen have fought vigorously to justify these clearly unjustifiable policies guided by political bias and vendetta.

But the Federal Ministry of Aviation is headed by a politician who is clearly seen as arrow head of President Jonathan's 2015 President campaign, and this ministry has not rested on its oars in rolling out more hardline policies targeted at viciously muzzling the movement of not just the River state governor but all the leading political opponents to the President like the former Governor of Lagos state and the national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria- Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu from using their privately owned aircrafts to airlift their political friends to attend political meetings. Bola Tinubu who is in political merger talks with the leading political opposition stakeholder Major Genral Muhammadu Buhari [rtd] is known to have lifted General Buhari and other opposition politicians in his private jet to facilitate their movements during political merger talks that are still ongoing.

The Minsitry of Aviation that is clever by half has code named the new policy as revised national civil aviation policy [NCAP] 2013, which came into effect last weekend and seeks to ban private jet owners from flying other passengers other than their family members.

Media reports emanating from the federal ministry of aviation said the new aviation policy which took about one year to review, was released only recently to bring new and sustainable regulatory structures into the industry for security and safety of airline passengers and crew. The ministry of aviation said the new policy covers safety programme, accident investigation and prevention, monitoring and control of general aviation, introduction of an effective search and rescue mechanism as well as an effective and sustainable economic regulatory framework.

The new policy stated partly thus; "For private aircraft owned or leased by individuals, only the family members of the owner/lessee of the aircraft will be permitted on boards as passengers. For private aircrafts owned or leased by companies or corporate entities, only the employees and members of the board of directors of the companies would be permitted on board as passengers. Passengers on board will also be subjected to strict traffic control clearance".

The new policy also contains some dos and don'ts just as it stated that: " for aircrafts belonging to non-scheduled or scheduled operators, only the employees and members of the board of directors of the company or the corporation may be permitted on board as passengers; all operators will declare the identities of all the passengers on non-revenue charter flights in the appropriate general declaration forms prior to obtaining Air Traffic Control clearance. Nigerian carriers operating revenue passenger charter flights will be required to have a current non-scheduled or scheduled operator permit with operation manual that contains flight duty time limitations, which will be strictly monitored on regular basis".

Both the Presidency and the leading political opposition figures have begun to wage vicious war of words concerning these new regulations with the leadership of the Action Congress of Nigeria and the Congress of Progressive Change of General Muhammad Buhari [rtd] accusing the Presidency of masterminding these obnoxious aviation regulations so as to curtail the free movement of members of the political opposition platforms who may have being privileged to own private aircrafts. But the Aviation minister has being forced to defend the timing of these new rules when she debunked the allegation of political vendetta made against her by the Nigerian Political opposition. Ms. Stella Odua said the revised national civil aviation policy of 2013 is in compliance with section 769[1] of the civil aviation Act of 2006 and consists of 10 critical parts of the aviation industry, which according to her would be reviewed every five years or when necessary".

But political opposition have told the Presidency in clear and broad terms to go tell that to the marines since they are convinced that these new sets of regulations in the aviation sector are systematic continuation of the clamp down began against political opposition which was kick -started with the drama that preceded the grounding of the private aircraft belonging to the River state government.

Action Congress of Nigeria said; "Aviation is a global industry, yet nowhere in the World has this kind of policy been in place, and it is simply impracticable. Whoever is still in doubt about the transmogrification of the Jonathan administration should have a second thought."

Reuben Abati, the ace Presidential Media aide who holds a doctorate degree in performance arts has dramatically dismissed with a wave of the hands the insinuation of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria and stated that the new aviation policy complied with global best practices. He failed woefully to point out with practical examples where these kinds of aviation regulations are in place.

Literary dancing to the gallery, the Presidential Special Adviser on Media Dr. Reuben Abati said the opposition politicians had embarked on their usual theatrics and mischief.

Abati said; " Government has not said that you can not carry anybody in your private aircraft. That is not what the policy said. This is clearly a case of misrepresentation. What the policy says is that whoever you carry in your private jet, you must submit a manifest; you must declare a manifest. It is important to note that you cannot say because it is your private jet, you will carry people in it and you will not declare a manifest. It is standard international practice that for air travel, a manifest must be made available."

Reuben Abati is dead wrong on this explanation and is guilty of falling into the erroneous trap and fallacy which the Iconic Musician late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti shouted "teacher don't teach me nonsense". The new civil aviation policy of 2013 clearly stated that private jet owners can only carry as passengers their biological family members and not what Reuben Abati gave as his understanding of the policy. This misreading of the new policy by Reuben Abati shows the disconnect and the illogic that holds sway in the Presidency in their deadly hurry to undo political opposition elements who are junketing all over the country to form alliances and mergers to confront the ruling Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] of Good luck Jonathan.

The error of interpretation of the new national civil aviation policy of 2013 by the Presidential spokesman reminds me of what the Philosopher Mr. Immanuel Kant [17724-1804] formulated as the categories of thought and the forms of intuition whereby he stated that the distinctive activity of the mind is to synthesize and to unify our experience. Kant further argued that the human mind achieves this synthesis first by imposing on our very experiences in the 'sensible manifold' certain forms of intuitions: Space and time. He stated that human beings inevitably perceive things as being in space and time. Space and Time according to Immanuel Kant, are not ideas derived from the things we experience but rather are lenses through which figuratively we always see objects of experience.

In the same vein, the political opposition and other critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project have perceived these sets of new national civil aviation policy of 2013 with the space and time of preparations towards the 2015 elections vis-à-vis the widely held perception that the incumbent President has allowed his acolytes holding strategic offices to churn out outrageous and obnoxious policies that would undermine the near-perfect strategic political project of the Nigerian political opposition to liquidate from the political ruling house, the now ruling Peoples Democratic Party.

Reuben Abati's wrong explanation above has made nonsense of what had initially seemed like sensible explanation offered aforementioned by the Federal Minister of Aviation who had told journalists robustly that the new civil aviation policy of 2013 was grounded in extant aviation regulatory framework. She nevertheless failed to justify the striking coincidence of roll out date of these sets of new national civil aviation policy of 2013 with the emerging muzzling of the movement of the River State Governor by the same aviation ministry.

Still dwelling on the nonsense of the new sets of civil aviation policy of 2013, I will say straight away what is at play is the fact that these sets of regulations do not make sense if what they are intended to achieve is aviation safety because it is inconceivable that owners of private jets could do any thing that will sabotage/jeopardize the security of their lives or of their choice assets bought with huge foreign currency.

Secondly, it is inconceivable to imagine how the enforcers of these draconian aviation regulations will determine who are the rightful biological members of the families of owners of private jets. Will the ministry of aviation of Nigeria now set up well equipped medical facilities for determining the actual DNA'S of all passengers carried by private aircrafts?

Again, another clear illogicality is the fact that the new policy does not make room for private jets owned by state governments because no single state government operates like a company or corporation and this implies that they are completely barred from flying since no state has board of directors and for instance the private jet belonging to River state government does not have an individual owner and so in this case if we follow the new civil aviation policy of 2013 the state as an entity is expected to fly the jet and not the governor since he is not the individual owner of the aircraft nor the employee of any and/or director of board of corporation or company. This shows the clear nonsense of this new civil aviation policy and therefore should be discarded immediately. Those affected can seek through judicial process to demolish this clearly offensive sets of aviation policies.

It is my considered opinion that these sets of draconian national civil aviation regulations couched into a policy offends several provisions of the fundamental rights enshrined in chapter four of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 [as amended] including but not limited to the right to freedom of movement and freedom of association because banning friends of owners of private owners of jets from enjoying the generosity of their rich friends severely impedes the enjoyment of their fundamental freedoms constitutionally protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] and the African Charter of human and peoples rights both of which are now domestic laws by virtue of their domestication.


+Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head; Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria; blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com; http://www.huriwa.org/.

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Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko