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We thank God that from the time that I was appointed Minister of Aviation and up until the time that I left, the incessant and tragic plane crashes and consequent spilling of blood (five crashes in the space of one year which claimed approximately 400 lives) ceased immediately as a direct consequence of divine intervention, God’s grace, constant prayer, the efforts that we made and the structures and safety measures that we put in place. I should also mention the fact that there were many occasions when some very powerful men tried to compel me to bend the rules and on failing tried to convince President Olusegun Obasanjo to either over-rule me or re-deploy me so that things could go back to the status quo ante and business as usual. This would have undoubtedly resulted in more plane crashes. It gives me pleasure to be able to say that on each occasion President Obasanjo refused to listen to them but instead backed me to the hilt and supported and encouraged me in all my actions. Without his full backing and support we could not have succeeded.
After I was re-deployed to the Ministry of Aviation, for the first time in a very long time, Nigerians were accorded the same respect that other nationals were enjoying from foreign airlines all over the world. This is because we summoned them and insisted that this must be so.
A good number of international routes for Nigerian carriers were fought for
and won under my tenure. This was something that had been very rare and difficult up until the time that we came in.
We ushered in a much higher level of discipline and efficiency from the airline operators and parastatals when we came in than existed before.
We worked hard to ensure the completion and launching of the MMA Terminal 2 which is probably one of the best examples of public/private sector partnership on the African continent. This gave Nigerian aviation a tremendous boost.
We forwarded to Mr. President the recommendation that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should be given autonomy from the Ministry and the passing of the Bill by the National Assembly after it was given unprecedented support by Mr. President and the Ministry of Aviation. This resulted in the passing of the NCAA Act.
We established an independent and thoroughly professional Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) which was set up to investigate air crashes. The practice up until the time that we came in was for the Ministry of Aviation itself to investigate air crashes but this proved to be inefficient, unsatisfactory, unreliable and subject to manipulation.
Nigeria became a signatory of the “cape town convention” during our tenure which gave our airline operators the opportunity to secure international loans.
We won approval from the Federal Executive Council and implemented the policy of “re-capitalization” of all the airlines operating in the country. This led to the establishment of bigger, stronger airliners with a larger capital and asset base and phased out the era of “one owner, one pilot, one plane” airliners which were virtually operating as flying coffins in Nigeria. This increased and enhanced the safety of our carriers and ensured that they were in a better position to honour all their obligations and insurance claims.
Under our tenure and as a consequence of our taking a memo to the Federal Executive Council, the Ministry of Aviation was granted access to and the exclusive utilisation of the BASA Fund (Bi-lateral Air Services Agreement Fund) which is lodged at the CBN and which runs into billions of Naira. The aviation sector desperately needs this money.
We also brought in the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) into our airports to reduce the cases of money laundering and other related crimes.
When we came into office, we discovered that the long-awaited TRACON project (total radar coverage for the whole country) had been abandoned for two years simply because someone had suggested that the original system (for which huge sums of money had been paid) should be abandoned and a newer more modern system (which is only being used by 3 other countries in the world) should be procured. This decision left Nigeria with no radar coverage because everything now came to a standstill and of course this had obvious implications for air travel in Nigeria and even for the defence of our airspace. The newer system that was being proposed was not only unsuitable for Nigeria but would also have come at an even higher cost in terms of money and time. I therefore directed that the company involved in this (Thales of France) should begin to manufacture and procure the original system for which they had been contracted and partially paid and consequently work on TRACON began again. We insisted that the original plan should be implemented and we fought for additional funding for it which we got and which I believe was lodged in central bank. Today I am told that the project is very much on course and within 18 months Nigeria should have full radar coverage. I am very happy about this and proud of the fact that we played a role in ensuring that this project was resurrected. It is absolutely vital that Nigeria has full radar coverage in order to enhance our defence capabilities and in order to ensure that planes stop disappearing without trace.
As a result of our intervention the proposed concession of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport, Abuja by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) was stopped by President Obasanjo. This is because we called his attention to the fact that the terms and conditions of the contract with the core investor were not in the interest of the country and the aviation sector.
The Federal Executive Council also approved a waiver on the importation of spare parts for our airline operators. This helped the airline operators considerably and cushioned the effects of the re-capitalization policy on them.
We resurrected and restored radar coverage for Lagos and Abuja (150km range) and this was the first time that radar had worked anywhere in the country since 1979. This was very gratifying as it was a matter of national pride and self-respect.
The Federal Executive Council approved that a “ground proximity warning system” (GPWS) must be installed in every plane that flies in Nigerian airspace. This enhanced safety and security.
xvii) We insisted that there must be no cutting of corners by the airline operators in the country and there must be full compliance of all the safety and security rules and mechanisms.
Under my tenure the Federal Executive Council took away the discretionary power of the pilot to land in bad weather and rather gave the control tower the power to compel him not to land if the weather is not good enough. This enhanced safety and, in my view, saved many lives.
Under my tenure not only did no plane crash but also no plane went missing.
We grounded more planes that the NCAA considered to be unfit for air travel than any other Minister in the history of aviation and we thereby saved lives.
We administered the Intervention Fund that was trusted to us in a transparent and open way and we always insisted on due process and due diligence in the application of these funds. I received N11billion and I left N7.2billion (which included about N100million that was left from the fund, sourced and spent on the safe tower project by my predecessor) in the intervention fund account at the time I left office having applied approximately N3.8billion of it. We left the balance for all the contracts that we awarded in the Intervention Fund account so that the contractor could be paid on completion of the contract. Out of the N2billion soft loan from Rivers State Government for the Port Harcourt runway, I received approximately N1,633,000,000.00 when I came in and we paid N1.5billion (50% of the contract cost) to the contractor. We therefore left approximately N133million in that account. The balance for Port Harcourt runway of N1.5billion is also embedded in the main Intervention Fund account. As at the time I left none of this money was missing, misappropriated, mismanaged or unaccounted for.
Conclusion
The list of our achievements in aviation are in the hearts and minds of the Nigerian people who still call us and send messages to us on a daily basis to express their gratitude that as a consequence of our efforts and by the grace of God they could once again fly without any fear. This was all achieved as a result of sheer hard work, the unflinching support which I received from my personal staff, the presidential implementation committee, the chief executives of the various parastatals, the staff at the Ministry of Aviation, the various unions in aviation, the chairmen and committees of both the Senate and House Committees on Aviation and members of the media and the Nigerian public.
I must also acknowledge the fact that we could not have succeeded without continuous prayer on the part of my church leaders, my pastors, my family members and my staff. I wish to thank them all.
For all this I say one thing and one thing alone: “to God be the glory