Aviation reform in Nigeria

Feb 1, 2006

The urgent need to reform and revitalise Nigeria’s potentially buoyant aviation industry was sharply driven home by two separate aircraft accidents towards the end of 2005. Both accidents involved privately-owned airlines and both resulted in a large loss of lives.

The inadequate response of the emergency services compounded the grief of the nation and there were immediate cries for radical reforms and for heads to roll. 

In response, Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo and Aviation Minister, Professor Babalola Borishade, both personally vowed to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the country’s aviation industry was put to right. The raft of measures introduced since then include – the formation of a Presidential Task Force on the Nigerian Aviation Industry chaired by Air Vice Marshal Paul Dike; the establishment of a Task Force on the Verification of the Airworthiness Status of Aircraft and Operational Competencies of Commercial Aircraft Operators in Nigeria, headed by Engineer Folashade Odutola; the dismissal of some highly-placed aviation officials; the appointment of a new Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold O. Demuren, and a spirited attempt to improve some of the country’s aviation facilities. 

Addressing a meeting of aviation industry stakeholders he summoned at State House, President Obasanjo remarked that only an irresponsible Government would fail to recognise the need to rectify the ailments of the Nigerian aviation industry. Some participants at the forum requested that the Government should help to support the aviation sector by injecting funds so as to create a conducive environment for growth. Others countered that aviation was a tough and capital intensive business and that if people couldn’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen. Overall, it was a meeting full of mixed emotions and strongly held opinions. 

Recently, when accepting the report of Engineer Odutola’s Task Force, Professor Borishade revealed another new measure which will soon be introduced to improve standards in the country’s aviation industry. He said that pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers and sundry aviation personnel would be compelled to undergo a re-certification exercise to ensure that only the highest standards were maintained. The re-certification of aviation professionals and safety audit exercise would be conducted by the NCAA in preparation for the all-important audit of the country by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). 

Meanwhile, Dr Demuren, the NCAA’s new Director General, has swung into action to address the key challenges facing his organisation. In particular, the NCAA is seeking autonomy from the Federal Ministry of Aviation in order to fully comply with international norms and to be able to fully exercise its powers without undue political interference, which has often been the case in the past. 

To his credit, Aviation Minister Professor Borishade has been at the forefront of those calling for autonomy for the NCAA. He recently urged the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation to help facilitate the swift passage of the Aviation Reform Bill through the House of Assembly. President Obasanjo, too, has thrown his weight behind this issue and has urged the House to pass the Bill before the end of March, 2006. 

Dr Demuren, who has considerable local and international experience in the aviation industry, says that the NCAA currently faces the onerous task of restoring public confidence in the Nigerian aviation industry. He sees no realistic alternative to complete autonomy for the NCAA so as to ensure that the regulatory body can perform its important functions uninhibited by political or other considerations.


– By Nick Fadugba
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