The recent merger of three key aviation agencies by the Federal Government has expectedly generated mixed reactions within the industry. While aviation operators hailed the action as a step in the right direction by bringing the agencies under one umbrella following the Steve Oronsaye panel report that made the recommendation, others, especially the workers, decry the decision as wrong-headed.
Aviation, according to this group, is regulated worldwide by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA), and as such, should follow global best practices. They argued that Nigeria cannot, at this juncture, afford to suffer avoidable aviation disasters resulting from lumping critical agencies together.
By the government’s plan the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) would be morphed into a new Federal Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA).
The Oronsaye panel had recommended the merger and outright scrapping of some government agencies under the restructuring and rationalisation of Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies to reduce the cost of governance.
For instance, the panel recommended that the National Examinations Council (NECO) and the National Business and Technical Education Board (NABTEB) should be merged with the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). This was, however, rejected by government. Instead, government accepted the recommendation that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) should continue to exist as the central examination body for admissions into universities.
The panel had also recommended the reduction of the existing 263 government paratatals and agencies to 161. The White Paper released by the office of the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice rejected the recommendation that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and the Voice of Nigeria (VON) be merged into one body to be known as Federal Corporation Broadcasting of Nigeria (FCBN). Also rejected, among others, was the recommendation for the merger of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
While some of the actions of government are easy to rationalize, others are not. The merger of aviation agencies, in particular, appears not to be reasonable, hence it has attracted more public reaction. With a history of recurrent aviation disasters, Nigeria cannot afford to toy with the operation and management of the industry. Everything should be done to ensure that very high standards are upheld in the industry.
Coming at a time when officials of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are visiting Nigeria to reassess her Category 1 Safety Status, the merger of the agencies may raise critical questions and it is not known to what extent it would affect the reassessment.
What, for instance, made the action most expedient at this time? Most countries have their civil aviation agencies as distinct bodies, which guarantee autonomy and efficiency. By this merger, wouldn’t an unwieldy internal bureaucracy affect the operation of the agencies? How would the merger enhance efficiency?
It is noteworthy that the NCAA is a regulator while NAMA and NIMET have distinct functions. Why is it necessary to merge a regulator with others in the industry? Under what framework would they operate? Why did the merger not affect the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)?
The implication is that government would henceforth drive the policy as well as regulate and operate at the same time. There are, of course, many contradictions in the White Paper, which are undesirable. It may be necessary for government to reconsider the decision.
In all, government has not given teeth to the Oronsaye panel report. Most of the desirable recommendations were rejected while at the same time, some new agencies were created. This is curious. The objective of cutting the cost of governance, which informed the setting up of the panel has been defeated. The country stands to lose.