Next Aviation Minister: Jonathan beware!

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By Chris Azu Aligbe

 Since the last Cabinet shake-up that saw the exit of the former Aviation Minister – Princess Stella Oduah and her three other colleagues, many individuals, professionals and interest groups have started prescribing for the President the type of Minister he should appoint.  The loudest voice came from aviation unions and Industry Professional associations.  Some described her exit as good riddance; one or two said she has “taken the industry 60 years back”; another said the President was slow.

There is the next group who feel Oduah hurt their interest beyond imagination and are pushing, lobbying and praying that Jonathan will appoint someone who would reverse most decisions of the erstwhile Minister to their advantage.

The fact is that among canvassers jostling for their voices to be heard are those with vested interest, albeit, personal, some others genuine and others vengeful.

There is no doubt that Oduah was audacious in the face of the impunities that confronted her on arrival in the industry.  In engaging the impunities, she adopted the philosophy of the “avant-garde” that holds that “nonsense is the shortest cut to sense”.  She met impunities that were obstacles to change in the industry with equal impunity.  She no doubt hurt quite some people but she was passionate, focused and had great capacity for visioning.  She saw tomorrow of the industry.  She wanted a world-class aviation sector.

Today, Oduah is a sad casualty of concatenated circumstances, many of which were beyond her control, some within her control and some engendered by her.  She stepped into and, fought in a minefield created largely by those who are now calling for this or that type of aviation Minister to be appointed, driven by primitive egoism cocooned in a thin deceptive coat of patriotism.

Mr. President, you must see through this façade of pretentious patriotism.  If not, the next casualties will be the aviation sector, your transformation agenda and, ultimately, the nation.  The consequent disaster will bewilder and impact on our nation for years to come.

Without prejudice to genuine observations of some individuals, Oduah’s vision, encapsulated in the Aviation Master Plan, is humongous and in tandem with global trend.  No doubt, Oduah made mistakes, some of them very costly, just like every human being in a race for reform and transformation within a short period of time.  Unfortunately, these mistakes took her out.  In spite of this, she left on ground, palpable achievements that even her worst enemies cannot but acknowledge; achievements that dwarf all the collective achievements of over fourteen Ministers before her in the last two decades: from 1990 – 2010.   She certainly changed the face of the industry for the better.  But curiously, what is visible is nothing comparable with what she has laid the formwork for.  Her perceived misdemeanor irrespective, she will remain one of the few five-star ministers of Jonathan’s administration in this dispensation.

The next minister, Mr. President, must have a clear mandate which will be to remain focused on the Master Plan and proceed to complete the various projects commenced by Oduah.  This has to be so since the projects are for the benefit of the country at large.

For instance, the 22 decrepit airports remodeled by the erstwhile minister do not belong to her nor are they directly to her benefit.  The planned Cargo Terminals in 16 airports will no doubt have unimaginable impact in produce farming, trade, cargo operations and employment.  With what the highly effective Minister of Agriculture is doing, cargo terminals with cold storage facilities will rekindle great hope, satisfaction and zeal in the agricultural sector.

Mr. President, those who are today calling for a Professional to be appointed are missing the point.  Professionals who are not exposed to the fact that aviation, globally, has moved, since the last one and half decades, from the domain  of engineers and pilots to the world of business, can neither understand nor envision new horizons, let alone drive the kind of transformation Oduah pursued. Aviation today is a huge global business that drives development.  It requires tremendous vision, thinking out of the box and an understanding of the expansive role aviation has in economic development.  Without fear of contradiction, I aver that these are not attributes of core aviation professions where competences are highly in-depth but within narrow professional jackets guided by cockpit mentality.

Mr. President, there is need also to avoid handing over the portfolio to a pure politician.  Political practice in our country has a challenge of its own which I know you know very well. It does not genuflect to pensive intellection; the kind that drive reforms and transformation.

Put your searchlight therefore on a successful, visionary businessman or woman with an instruction not to look back but forward.  Such a person should be passionate and with determination for legacies.

Mr. President, Oduah’s fate became ineluctable; so she had to go and has gone but the aviation sector reform must continue ongoingly in the interest of our nation.

This is your challenge and that of your new minister.  You can aptly call this challenge the “burden of Oduah’s great performance and sad exit”.  However, you look at it and however you handle it, Mr. President, the prerogative is yours and the buck stops at your table.  I sincerely wish you luck while I pray for our beloved nation.

nAligbe, an Aviation Consultant, writes via [email protected]

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