Ministerial Appointments in Nigeria

The political appointment process is not an exact science. Not all those who help bring the party or the president to power will benefit from their endeavors. Generally speaking, once the votes are counted and a particular candidate is declared the winner, the notables who participated in the political struggles usually feast on the spoils of war. The spoils may include heading ministries or units within ministries or the parastatals. Appointment as envoy to overseas diplomatic posts, plum contracts, or hush-hush payments for campaign efforts are also part of the spoils. Other gains may include consultancy with direct or indirect access to the presidency. Most appointments are therefore paybacks for a job well done — whether the appointee is qualified or not.

In some systems, one or two notables who are not part of the winning team or who may even be apolitical are sometimes appointed to high-level positions. Such appointments are based on merit or expertise or independence. Under such circumstance, the president may decide he needed someone to “clean house or put the house in order” as in when General Yakubu Gowon appointed Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the minister of finance. In recent memory — willingly or unwillingly — President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the Finance Ministry. From all indications, both outsiders performed exceptionally well.

Presidents rarely appoint “anybody” to strategic ministries; just as they rarely appoint “anybody” to plum diplomatic posts. For instance, the G7 countries are usually reserved for the well-connected or the highly regarded. In terms of ministerial appointments, the president may appoint “less qualified” people to head the less strategic ministries such as the ministry of Tourism and Culture, Women Affairs, Internal Affairs, Water Resource and Rural Development, the Inter Government Affairs and Youth Development, and Cooperation and Integration in Africa, and the ministry of Information and National Orientation. Practically any body with a middle-of-the-education and with a decent people-management-skill will do.

However, the same cannot be said of the Housing and Urban Development, Finance, Health, Defense, Education, Justice, Foreign, and the Aviation ministry. These are very important ministries needing complex and specialized skills and training and temperament. Recent catastrophic events in Nigeria make the case of the Aviation Ministry even more so.

Until his redeployment to the Ministry of Tourism, Professor Babalola Borishade was the Minister of Aviation. The man who succeeded him is Chief Femi Fani-Kayode (a one-time presidential spokesperson). Considering how strategic and important the Aviation sector is, how qualified was Borishade, and how qualified is Fani-Kayode to run such an important sector of our national life? You cannot, for instance, have a school teacher or an architect as the minister of health; just as it would be unwise to have a pharmacologist as the minister of Justice.

As far as the Aviation ministry goes, common sense and good sense demands that you have a man or woman who is trained in that field or in related field, and who understand the policies and procedures, structures, institutional culture and the inner workings of the Aviation organization. For instance, a former pilot or retired Nigerian Airways official in good standing would have been a better person to run the ministry. Or, the president should have brought in a retired Air Force officer to put the ministry in order. Nigeria has dozens and dozens of men and women — directly and indirectly connected with the Aviation sector — who are eminently capable of running the Ministry. The current minister, in spite of his loyalty to the president, is not the right man to run the ministry.

Since the inception of the Obasanjo administration, the nation has suffered almost a dozen plane and helicopters crashes claiming about six hundred lives. These unbearable and unacceptable calamities should have informed the president’s judgment in appointing ministers for the Aviation sector.True, some factors are beyond human knowing, weather for instance. But well-trained pilots and the use of the latest aviation equipments would have made such culprit less a factor (as is the case in advanced systems).

According to the federal government, the functions and responsibilities of the Ministry include:

1)Formulation and implementation of policies and programs to provide a conducive aviation environment in line with the conventions of international agreement;

2)Over-all supervision and regulation of the civil aviation industry, including airport development & management, manpower development etc;

3)Development and management of airports;

4)Provision of air safety and other aeronautical services in all airports within Nigeria;

5)Provision of meteorological facilities and overseeing of training in the fields of aviation meteorological services;

6)Issuance of airline permit and licenses;

7)Affiliation with international bodies in Aviation, Meteorological and other related fields; and supervision of related parastatals.

The Parastatals are:

1)The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)

2)The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)

3)The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA)

4)The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET)

5)The Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT)

In addition to these Parastatals, there are six Departments and these are:

1)Department of Air Transport Management

2)Department of Safety & Technical Policy

3)Department of Accident Investigation & Prevention

4)Department of Planning, Research & Statistics

5)Department of Finance & Supplies

6)The Department of Personnel Management

For such a complex and specialized sector you need well-trained men and women to run it. And at the helm of the ministry should be a man or woman with several years of education, skills and technical training. In order words, the Ministry of Aviation, like the ministry of Health, Finance and Justice should not (and never) be part of the spoils of politics. And even if it is, the president should look far and wide for men or women with extraordinary competence in the Aviation sector.

The president, I am certain, will not appoint party operatives to man his security detail; why then appoint party stalwart to man such a sector with a long history of failure and calamity. The Ministry of Aviation should never be run by a political appointee who is being rewarded for his/her role in the campaign. Babalola Borishade was not the right man to run the ministry. His successor, Femi Fani-Kayode, unless he has qualifications and skills one is unaware of, is also not the right man to run it. The ministry is too important and specialized for such a man to man.

The Nigerian Legislative body, especially the Senate Committee on Aviation, should see to it that those appointed to head the Aviation ministry and its various organs are professionals with direct roots in the Aviation sector. The selection and confirmation process should be rigorous, and independent of party politics.

Unless the president appoint well-qualified men and women in good standing and with deep roots in the aviation sector the ministry and its various organs will continue to decay and make waste the lives of eminent and ordinary Nigerians. The lives of the flying public should not be that cheap to the point where our planes and skies become flying infernos, and our airports mortuaries-in-waiting.

As a nation, we’ve had one crash too many. As it is our waterways and roads and abridges are already death traps. Why make our skies avenues of death. We deserve better. Please redeploy Chief Femi Fani-Kayode to another ministry and appoint a seasoned professional to the Ministry of Aviation.

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