Former pilot, Senator Hadi Sirika represents Katsina North Senatorial Constituency on the platform of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and is a member of the Senate Committee on Aviation. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the lawmaker took a swipe at the regulators of the aviation industry. He also spoke on President Jonathan’s poor grasp of his brief and on a number topical issues.
What is the Senate Committee on Aviation doing about the DANA air crash?
The Senate Committee on Aviation is doing what the senate asked them to do.We have been asked to investigate the cause of the crash with the view of finding out what is wrong with the sector so that we could improve upon it either by way of oversight, or by making better laws that will make the industry safer.
We have called for public hearing and we are listening to stakeholders in the sector. We have heard the regulators make their representation and other stake holders like FAAN and the rest.Even DANA Airlines has been invited; we have also been talking to engineers, pilots and what have you.
After the public hearing, we will put forward our recommendation to the senate and a decision will be taken whether it will be necessary to enact new laws or the ills can be corrected through oversight.
As a professional in the aviation sector, what would you say are the problems with the sector?
Well, if you asked me to be very specific, there are lots of factors.The regulatory agencies which are supposed to regulate the whole industry may be ill-equipped to do the job. What I mean here is not necessarily the equipment as in tools.
But for example during the public hearing, I asked a question that was televised, that ‘whether the regulator(NCAA) has complied with that ICAO(International Civil Aviation Organization) critical element number 4, of having qualified personnel in sufficient numbers to oversee the industry for safety, efficiency and security?
I personally believe they don’t because you have about four thousand professionals working in the industry, pilots, engineers, cabin staff, traffic controllers and what have you.
All these people are licensed to do their jobs, and when they say you are licensed, it means you have authority to do the job.
There then should be a regulator(who licensed you ab-initio) to ensure that, you can exercise the privilege of that license that you have. So if you do not have enough people to cover these four thousand people, to ensure that, they are professional enough to carry out their assigned duties, then of course you have a problem.
It is not only the personnel that the regulator will regulate, they need to regulate the airline themselves and make sure that they are financially buoyant and professionally managed efficiently. They should also regulate the aircraft itself, they should find out whether it is airworthy and fit to fly or not.
And how many aircraft do you think we have in Nigeria? We have helicopters, airplanes, seaplanes, balloons and may be even Gyro-planes as well as kites, they all fly in the air. They all must be regulated.
They need to regulate the service providers such as NAMA, NIMET, FAAN and some other operators of aviation business; those that own hangers and maintenance facilities and so on. Does the regulator have the right kind of personnel and in sufficient numbers to carry out these functions?
In my opinion, they don’t. If they claim they do, we can do the ratio to the number of staff assigned to each duty and see whether they will be able to cover it. The second aspect of the whole thing is, how is the industry developing?
Is it in line with global best practices? Is its growth commensurate with the universal growth? Taking into cognizance the number of flying public in this country, how is maintenance scheduled? That part of maintenance that we can’t do and have to be taken abroad.
How efficient or how effective are we doing them? So, to me, some of these things are really difficult and this all boils down to the regulator because even how viable an airline is, is under the purview of the regulator.
You could see our training institutions; there was a time our only training institution in Zaria did 9 years without producing a single pilot.Though it changed recently, they came and did some crash training and that produced some pilots and I think they are now training.
But even at that, are we meeting the required number for the industry? If we are meeting the requirement of the industry, are these pilots developing to go to the stage where they could service the industry well? We have some qualified pilots around and also ironically so many foreign pilots.
This is so because most of these people that lease their aircraft do it with their crew, maintenance, insurance and all to make sure that, the equipment they lease to Nigeria will go back to them the way it came.
Meaning that they can’t trust us to do so. So there are very many things that have gone wrong, I can only give you this not to risk the quality of investigations that we are doing.
After every disaster, a committee and public hearing is set up and at the end of the day, nothing comes out. What assurance is the senate going to give Nigerians that this particular report will be used?
Well, like I said, after we finished, we will submit our report to the senate and the senate will decide what to do with it.For sure, ours is public; when we present it to the floor, it will be openly debated.
Whatever resolutions comes out, we will force the government to act on it. That is why it is good for you to elect an executive that can do an effective job, which will ensure that things are don’t properly.
Are you comfortable with the way the federal government is handling the aviation industry
I am not in all spheres…
What advise can you give them?
Is there any advice more than what they know; that if they don’t fix the sector, it will continue to kill more Nigerians? Nobody needs to tell them that because the number one duty of any government is to secure the lives and properties of its citizens.
Securing lives does not only mean that you make sure that there is no armed robber on the road, you also do things that will make sure that they are alive including providing good transport system.
Some people have attributed the problems in the aviation sector to corruption; do you share such views?
If you asked me whether I share that view, I will tell you that I have not seen somebody taking money and doing the wrong things; I haven’t. But of course this is Nigeria and coming from the opposition party, it is what we have been fighting.
Corruption has eaten deeply into our fabric, not minding what NuhuRibadu said during the presidential debate that Nigeria is not corrupt and there is no Nigerian that is corrupt. But if there is corruption in every sphere in Nigerian, then of course the aviation sector cannot be exempted and it is very dangerous.
I keep saying this that’ if one doctor makes one mistake, he will kill only one patient and he will remain alive but if there one mistake by one pilot, he will kill five hundred people including himself.
If there is a mistake by a regulator, then you will kill thousands as it has happened in Nigeria, people keep dying. If there is mistake by government who do not put a strong regulator, then of course God have mercy on us.
Talking about people dying, are you worried about the state of insecurity in the nation?
Of course I am very worried and concerned and I say,this is a failure of leadership. Whoever is the chief executive of a nation, a state or local government should be fully responsible for what is going on.
He has all the instruments of power around him, to do the needful and if he fails to do it, it them means he has failed completely.
Do you think a CPC government would have done better?
Yes, the minute the followership realizes that you are serious person and that you mean what you say and that you will not spare anybody no matter how powerful. The minute they realize that, that will be the end of their mischief and anything that they will do that is wrong in this country.
I do believe that, a CPC government would be a serious government in place under the able leadership of Gen Muhammedu Buhari.His track records are known, from platoon commander up to command brigade, up to general officer commanding a division, through to his governorship and ministerial appointment, through to his head of state and then PTF, people know that he is a very serious minded person.
Once he is there, people will fall in line. If you go to the social media and pages of newspapers and see how people make jest of our government, that will tell you how people feel about this government…
But this insurgency is peculiar to the north...
It is not only in the north, bombing did not start in the north, it started in the south. It is just the way Nigeria goes, there is OPC in the south/west, there was the bombing of pipelines by the Militant in the south/south, there was kidnap and ritual killing in the south/east and there is BokoHaram in the north.
So it is a Nigerian thing and it is failure of leadership. It is because we have continuously been saddled with people that were not elected, so they don’t care about the people, they are not answerable to them, so they do what they want and at the end, people feel cheated and they take laws into their hands…
But sir, don’t you think the nation is heading towards a state of anarchy or disintegration
Of course, it could, I feel so too.
Coming back to the CPC, there were reports recently that the NEC of the party was sacked. What really happened?
Well, I think that answer has been given by my leader and mentor, Gen MuhammduBuhari who said that you cannot; and it is so because it is in our constitution and also in the electoral act, you cannot sit as group of people and say, you have sacked a democratically elected official of the party.
He adviced that anybody who feels aggrieved or have been wronged might as well wait for the convention or follow the due process and remove them.