The recent directive that returned the headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to Lagos has been welcomed with pushbacks on political grounds. Aviation stakeholders said if no traveller would hold the political persuasion of pilot and crew as a precondition of boarding an aeroplane, why bring politics into the efforts at correcting past mistakes? JOKE FALAJU reports.
The recent move by the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, to relocate the head office of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) back to Lagos, for operational efficiency, has generated mixed reactions.
While some stakeholders saw it as a welcome development, others saw it as part of the political gimmick of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration to move the nation’s capital to Lagos.
The Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) argued that the relocation poses a threat to Abuja’s status as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and could have negative consequences for the country. They added that the move risks undermining national unity, disrupting operations, causing economic setbacks, and perpetuating regional imbalances.
Apparently, in agreement, the Chief Whip of the Senate, Ali Ndume, also opposed the move on the ground that it was targeted against their region, thereby fueling needless ethnic mistrust. The Senator argued that if the offices were being moved due to congestion in Abuja, the best place would be Nasarawa, Kaduna or Kogi and other states surrounding Abuja, for the sake of proximity, instead of “faraway” Lagos.
He said the President is being misled by some “Lagos boys”, who think “Nigeria is Lagos”. “That’s a wrong decision. We will not accept it. Besides, you know, they are not doing any favour to Mr. President, because this will have political consequences,” he said.
But beyond political consideration, the jostle for the best home for aviation agencies, not peculiar to FAAN, dates to 2012. Lagos, which is home to most domestic operators and the hub of air transport services, has come top in past consideration.
It therefore shocked many when the immediate past Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, in one fell swoop ordered all head offices to relocate to Abuja – without any of the statutory provisions for hundreds of civil servants and operational staffers concerned.
Sirika has said that the directive was in line with the presidential directive issued in 2012 requesting agencies under the ministry to relocate their corporate headquarters to the Federal Capital Territory for efficient and effective coordination and enhanced service delivery between the ministry and its agencies.
FAAN, for instance, had to rent an office space at Wuse Zone 6 to serve as a temporary head office, though miles away from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Many Senior staff of the agencies had to shuffle between Lagos and Abuja because more operations abound in Lagos than in Abuja.
Besides that, the relocation at that time had caused chaos in the aviation industry with stakeholders including workers unions kicking against the move.
The former General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees, Olayinka Abioye, recalled that when the circular for agencies to relocate from Lagos to Abuja was sent in 2012 by the then government, the various managements met with the unions, evaluated the process and believed “it did not make administrative or operational sense.”
Abioye said: “When the agencies were established by an Act of Parliament, they had addresses where their headquarters would be located; and now they are talking about moving these headquarters from Lagos to Abuja”.
He disclosed that agencies had to cough out N1 billion at that time to relocate to Abuja. “You should understand that there is no way this can happen without passing some cost to the airlines. Now, if the MD of an airline wants to have a meeting with the MD of FAAN or NAMA, he needs to fly to Abuja; you know many of the airlines have their headquarters in Lagos,” Abioye said.
Keyamo, on his X page, yesterday, said FAAN last year spent N493.67 million Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) for the principal officers, who travelled back and forth from Lagos to Abuja almost daily.
“This is aside from the air tickets, which I mentioned amounted to N451,058,950.09. So, in total, because of the insistence on naming Abuja as the headquarters of FAAN (when there are no offices in Abuja to accommodate all the principal officers), FAAN spent close to N1 billion in one year!”
The minister further explained, “So, why do we make this decision? It is not as if I woke up one day and made the decision. The new management approached me with the facts and said this is our problem. I asked them what the problem was, and they said that some of the directors were here, but the support staff and the departments under those directors had no place to stay and were in Lagos.”
Special Assistant on Media to the Minister of Aviation, Tunde Moshood, said the economic consideration and logistics of connecting the head offices of aviation with Lagos epicentre of air transport underscore the move to return FAAN HQ.
Moshood noted that Lagos has always been the hub of aviation activities given the number of airlines operating at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. He further disclosed that only operation staff may have to relocate to Lagos to boost operational efficiency.
FAAN spokesperson, Obigaeli Onah, explained that following wide consultation with stakeholders including union leaders, they agreed that relocation of the FAAN headquarters was in the best interest of the Authority and the country, saying moving the headquarters to Abuja was ill-advised in the first place.
Onah said those affected by the decision to move the headquarters to Abuja have since returned to Lagos as there is no office space for them in Abuja. “It was ill-advised in the first place to move the headquarters to Abuja when there was no single FAAN building to accommodate all of them at once.”
“Having returned to Lagos, the Authority has been liable to pay the staff Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) because technically they are working out of the station as their official posting is to Abuja. The Minister has decided to stop this waste of public resources and rip-off on the public purse.
“The other option open to the Authority was to abandon the old FAAN building in Lagos to rot away and to use its scarce resources to rent an office space in Abuja for millions of naira of public money when in fact more than 60 per cent of its activities are in Lagos, given the huge passenger volume of the Lagos airports. The stakeholders and the minister decided against that to save the country this waste,” she said.
The spokesperson added that the Minister had rolled out plans to get concessionaires to build befitting offices for the Authority in Lagos and Abuja and until that is done, the Authority will continue to manage its old building in Lagos that can accommodate all its directors and senior officials for now.
“Abuja continues to have full operational offices and the Authority has not scaled down operations in Abuja one bit. It is just the technical decision of where the Authority has its ‘corporate headquarters’ that has been taken without affecting the structure of operations as they are for now in both cities.”
“Soon, when befitting corporate buildings have been built for the Authority in both Lagos and Abuja, a final decision will be taken as to the location of the permanent headquarters, depending on the exigencies of the time,” Onah said.
More in agreement with the ministry, industry stakeholders have urged Nigerians to focus on the operational efficiency of FAAN, rather than the location of its headquarters.
They said the previous Managing Director of the Authority had worked more in Lagos than in Abuja, given that Lagos is the hub of the aviation industry and that their operational efficiency is more in Lagos than in Abuja.
Aviation expert, Olumide Ohunayo, said what is more important is the provision of facilities, extension of operating hours, fixing of the runway lighting system, repair of the lift in the control tower, and so on.
While acknowledging the need for proper planning for the relocation process, looking at the cost component, he said rather than spending millions of Naira for the relocation of staff to Lagos, it would make economic sense to relocate gradually and make some departments remain in Abuja.
A Former General Manager of FAAN, Abubakar Bibi, described the relocation of the aviation agencies to Abuja as a misnomer, saying aviation agencies had no business in Abuja as Lagos remains the hub of aviation business in Nigeria.
He said: “In my own opinion, I don’t think FAAN has any business to do in Abuja as headquarters because Lagos is where a chunk of the revenues come from, why will you relocate them to Abuja, What for?”