Following the swearing-in of President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term on May 29, 2019, 43 ministers were appointed to oversee different federal and state ministries.
Hadi Sirika was appointed as the Minister of Aviation by the president, after rounding off his tenure as the state minister of aviation under Rotimi Amaechi, who was the Minister of Transportation and Aviation, during the President’s first term in office.
His emergence as the aviation minister was no surprise to all the major players in the aviation industry, given his experience and track record in the aviation sector.
During his inauguration on August 21, 2019, aviation unions welcomed the minister and expressed their confidence in him to uplift the aviation sector and ensure its growth.
While reeling out his promises to the sector, Mr Sirika assured the implementation of the Nigerian Aviation roadmap and the moving of the industry to an enviable height.
The minister promised to work with the aviation unions to position the sector to be able to solve its challenges. Mr Sirika also assured that there would be an understanding between him and the key players of the industry, including the unions, to drive growth and advancement in the sector.
There were four key promises that stood out in the roadmap of the minister for the aviation sector. These are; the establishment of a National Carrier, the concession of four international airports, the establishment of a Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) centre and lastly, the establishment of Aviation Leasing Company (Aircraft leasing programme)
Subsequently, the minister promised the development of Cargo Terminals, the development of Aerotropolis (Airport City) with the latest promise in 2019 being the delivery of the 10bn Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu upgrade by April 2020.
According to Mr Sirika, all of the promises are targeted towards ushering a new dawn in the aviation sector. Most of the projects are, however, private-sector-driven as they are capital intensive. The actualisation of the major projects is dependent on partnership with the private sector and investments from local and foreign investors.
The delivery of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport upgrade is a key area the minister has been scored high by players in the aviation industry.
The federal government on August 24, 2019 shut down the Enugu airport for rehabilitation and N10 billion was subsequently approved for its upgrade.
The minister of aviation earlier promised the delivery of the airport latest by Christmas, December 2019, but was unable to attain completion at the promised date. Mr Sirika, thereafter moved the delivery date to Easter, April 2020.
Although plans were ongoing to deliver the N10 billion Enugu airport upgrade by April 2020, the coronavirus pandemic, which had a significant toll on the aviation sector and other sectors of the economy, rendered the delivery date unachievable.
Mr Sirika later moved the delivery to August 30.
The federal government on August 30 reopened the Enugu airport, with domestic flight scheduled to commence immediately while international flights would start on September 5.
The progress being made in the concession of the four international airports is another area Mr Sirika has been applauded.
Although there are several controversies around the concession, the minister received outline business case certificate of compliance from the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for the concession of the airports in June 2020.
Plans are ongoing towards the concession of the airports, which will result in revenue generation and creation of more jobs in Nigeria.
Despite the launch of the national carrier in London in 2018, the project met its Waterloo as the minister declared its indefinite suspension. Mr Sirika earlier announced that the national carrier is still a priority for the government.
The national carrier, which is to replace the defunct Nigerian airways, is yet to come through. The failure was tied to lack of investors and technical partners.
Meanwhile, the minister announced that the Nigeria Air project is still on the aviation road-map, regardless of its indefinite suspension. The minister said the establishment of the national carrier will be executed.
The establishment of aviation leasing company which has been in incubation since the first term of Mr Buhari is yet to be established.
In February 2020, the spokesperson of the ministry of aviation said in a statement that Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air and a consortium of A.J Walters/ Glovesly have been shortlisted as bidders for the proposed leasing company and the MRO facility.
The minister had in 2017, secured N1.5bn approval for the execution of five projects in the aviation sector, part of which was the establishment of an aviation leasing company.
Following the shortlisting of the three companies, a bidders’ conference took place during which a consortium of A. J. Walters/Glovesly/Egypt Air was shortlisted for the Aviation Leasing Company.
At the same bidders’ conference, two companies; A.J. Walters/Glovesly/ Egypt Air and Ethiopian Airlines were shortlisted to handle the MRO facility.
Identifying the need for an MRO, the ministry said the centre will aid major aircraft maintenance and technological knowledge transfer which will create more employment.
Despite the promise to establish an MRO centre, the minister is yet to deliver on this promise.
Performance – Scorecard
Two experts in the aviation industry, while speaking on the performance of Mr Sirika in his one year in office, scored him above average.
John Ojikutu, a retired captain and a former Military Commandant of Muritala Muhammed Airport told PREMIUM TIMES that the minister’s performance is above average and he will score him as high as 75 per cent.
“One of the areas I commend him for is the Abuja airport runway and the upgrade of Enugu airport. All these were completed within six months.
“If you know what is happening in Enugu, what he did now was what they should have done way back in 2013. He took over and they started, even though he said he was going to deliver it in April, I said it can’t be opened in April because I know (the) work there.
“These are some of the major things he has done for the nation. These are the areas I will give him a high mark. I will give him a minimum of 75 per cent. Most of the runways are ready within a short period,” he said.
“But most of the tasks he put forward, they are not tasks the government alone can do without the private sector’s contribution, because they are majorly private sector driven. Talk of the national carrier, concession, and others, they are privately driven,” Mr Ojikutu said.
“As far as I know, the national carrier is still on course, all that is required now is for the participants to be out. Everything is on course. Since it is going to be privately driven, we now need to identify those that will be there.”
Mr Ojikutu said the ministry is at the moment looking for credible Nigerians that will invest in the national carrier, people who are not of questionable characters.
He added that the project requires a lot of transparency and the ministry is experiencing a bottleneck in getting people that will have a stake in the national carrier and this is causing a delay.
Speaking about the concession of the four international airports, Mr Ojikutu said there is a change of language from the concession of airports to the concession of terminals.
“They started initially by saying they want to concession the airports, but they got to a bottleneck somewhere; especially with an airport like Lagos, there will be a bottleneck because almost all the parts of MMA are already concessioned.
“Lately, they are trying to rebuild their language from airport concession to terminal airports, but Lagos is going to a problem. MM2 is like a flagship of private participation in terminals, it is privately owned,” he said.
On the establishment of an MRO centre, Mr Ojikutu said it is not a government affair. “I don’t think the government should get involved directly with that. It is not something that should be done exclusively by the government. What the government should do is to create an enabling environment for foreign companies to establish centres here with support from credible Nigerians.
An (Aviation) Economist, Soji Amusan, told PREMIUM TIMES that the minister has performed above average despite that there are some projects he has not been able to execute.
“I will say his performance is definitely not below average. That’s my personal opinion.
“The minister is working on the national carrier, the deal has not been finalised yet but at least, they have decided to have a national carrier.
He made an effort the last time he went to a forum and launched the National carrier in the UK. Although that launching in the UK was not nice, it shows he is doing something on it. He is determined to do it and he is working on it,” Mr Amusan said.
He added that the concession of the airports is in process and the minister is listening to experts’ opinions, most of which are premised on the transparency of the project.
Speaking on the establishment of an MRO centre, Mr Amusan said it is not what the aviation ministry can do.
“When the government promise on what is better in private hands, it becomes difficult to do. I don’t see him do much on the establishment of the MRO. It is a private affair really; the government cannot do much,” he said.