Nigeria’s parliamentarians and aviation stakeholders are currently enmeshed in a running battle as they seek to probe the recent purported acquisition of two bulletproof cars by the nation’s Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah.
The rat chase is such that it is easy to forget that less than a year ago, there was high praise from a number of quarters for this high-achieving individual, in the light of her inputs into the ailing aviation sector.
She embarked on a foreign road trip earlier this year, in her bid to get foreign investment to build the first aerotropolis in all of Nigeria, using the four most commercially viable airport terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt models that locates business enterprises at the airports.
Oduah has equipped 22 Nigerian airports with lightning and thunderstorm detection equipment covering a range of 200 km and has made plans to build a cargo airport to help the increasing number of agricultural exports and with the redistribution of cargo.
That garnered praise from the eccentric governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. He said “Stella has spoken about a cargo airport for perishables and for agriculture. Now, for me, as an economist and as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, that is the most important and visionary step that the Aviation Minister has taken.”
He also applauded her efforts to make the flying experience as comfortable as possible, stressing that: “Airports are not just to carry human beings from Lagos to Kano; it is not just there to make travel easy and comfortable experience for individuals.”
Quite a lot of cynic Nigerians probably do not know that under the minister’s watch, a Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility (TRACON) was set up and ground controllers in the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT), which relays the low-level wind shear specific alerts to pilots via voice radio communication.
Just two years after her appointment, she set up the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) “Wreckage Hangar’’ in Abuja to ensure the speedy investigations of air crashes and incidents in Nigeria.
After years of neglect and near-deterioration, the international terminal of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu was commissioned and this same minister has secured approval from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the construction of five brand new International terminals /Cargo terminals from a concessionary loan from Chinese EXIM bank.
As you read this, plans are at an advanced stage to float a new national carrier that will be completely private-sector driven and professionally managed too. For the existing airlines, the minister has decided to play Good Samaritan too as she is working on the acquisition of about 30 new aircraft for domestic airlines through an intervention fund to re-fleet the airlines and boost their capacity.
In times of unnecessary fare disparity against Nigerian passengers by British Airways authorities with better treatment being meted out to other nationals, no one but Stella Oduah stood up to challenge the airline’s authorities. Even the current imbroglio that Turkish Airways is involved in, as regards the Abuja-Kano route is because the minister is refusing to bow to another airline giving Nigerians sub-par treatment unlike what obtains in other countries. But will the press ever bother to report about this?
Stella Oduah handled the Bilateral Air Service Agreement, BASA that involved the Arik Airline and the British Airways authorities and brought to the fore, her diplomatic ingenuity and negotiating skills.
For Arik’s sake and for the benefit of Nigerians visiting London often, she got back the airline’s landing slots into Heathrow Airport and worked magic by getting the airport management to increase the slots to seven, from four per week.
It is instructive to note too that she stopped Bi-Courtey from increasing the Passenger Service Charge to protect the traveling public from undue exploitation and ensure that everyone, rather than just the elite can fly at affordable rates. Consequently, air travel costs remain reasonable and there has not been any appreciable increase since she took over at the ministry.
As-a-matter-of-factually speaking, she has demonstrated ability, doggedness, competence and a lot of resilience to ensure that the Aviation Industry lines up with internationally accepted standards. Instead of battling with her array of critics as some other government officials are wont to do, she has concentrated on leaving a good legacy and trying to complete ongoing projects that the ministry is involved in. It takes maturity and uncommon tenacity to do this and obviously, these are some of the minister’s strong points.
For a third world country such as Nigeria, it is quite pleasing to the eyes that the country’s airports which were once an eyesore and a symbol of governmental malfeasance can change. Oduah is turning water to wine and deserves to be given a second chance; perhaps she can indeed make the land of the Nigerian prince a land flowing with milk and honey.
Written By Stephen Anayo