Since assuming duties as Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah has left no one in doubt that she is on a mission.
She inherited an industry poorly developed, steeped in crises with threat of imminent collapse.
The absence of a consistent and well articulated national aviation policy, excessive bureaucracy and bad management was its waterloo.
Attempts to formulate a national policy dates back to 1986 when a 10-man committee’s recommendation constituted the National Policy on Civil Aviation.
African ministers responsible for civil aviation met in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast in October 1988 to fine-tune common positions.
This heralded the historic Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) of 1988. It became imperative to harmonise the National Aviation Policy of 1989 with the Regional Aviation Policy contained in the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988 which was reaffirmed in 1994.
Princess Stella Oduah therefore navigated through the cacophony of policies and came up with the Aviation Road map. The Road-map provided the institutional framework for the provision of infrastructure, monitoring and control of the industry.
The involvement of aviation stakeholders in producing the policy predictably resulted in unanimous adoption. One year down the road, critics who doubted government’s commitment to implementing the road-map are forced to swallow their words as the implementation is on course.
Princess Oduah sent shock waves into the system when shortly on resumption, she stopped the exploitative collection of N2,500 passenger service charge (PSC) introduced unilaterally by the operators.
Her mission to restore the aviation sector to its rightful place as a harbinger of economic progress was not open to negotiation.
In the words of Henry Longfellow, “In this world a man must either be an anvil or hammer”. Those who dared to stand on her way have confessed that beneath her soft spoken mien is plenty of hammer and anvil.
When she engaged the British authorities on the airfare disparity saga, she stood eyeball to eyeball with our erstwhile colonial masters, to the admiration of fellow Nigerians.
At the heat of heightened suspicion between the Executive and Legislative arm of government, the National Assembly endorsed and supported her crusade, with resounding success.
Known for daring uncharted terrain, Princess Oduah inherited a sector that had virtually negotiated away its soul to powerful forces in the guise of public private partnerships (PPP), concessionaires and other drain pipes.
At least, four ministers of aviation have fought the ‘aviation cabal’ to no success. For a woman who has conquered the private sector and successfully established a business conglomerate with interest spanning oil and gas, agriculture, engineering, logistics, trading and philanthropy, fate had prepared her for a time such as these.
She rose to the occasion. Though Aviation stakeholders have applauded this Princess of Akili, the ranks of her powerful enemies increased.
Worried by the decay in Nigerian airports and terminals that were built more than thirty years ago, the minister embarked on massive reconstruction and remodeling.
The Kaduna and Kano Hajj terminals were re-modeled and commissioned in record time by no other than the Sultan of Sokoto himself who was so impressed with the quality of work that he made a case for Sokoto.
Work is on-going at the Sokoto terminal. Within three months of mounting the saddle of leadership, she commenced work on 11 airports in the first instance, out of the 22 earmarked.
From Lagos to Yola, Port Harcourt to Enugu, the quality and pace of work took the aviation sector by storm.
For once, the national pride of Nigerians was restored and the nation’s standing in the comity of nations was sustained. Some ‘aviation stakeholders’ were however slighted that the minister deviated from the normal practice where monies where shared amongst ‘stakeholders’.
They vowed to teach her a lesson. They petitioned that the minister was re-modeling the airports without approval, contracts were awarded without due process and that the BASA funds were being spent without regard for laid down procedures.
Like a pack of cards, the accusations fell one after the other as their accusations lacked merit. Due process was followed and relevant approvals were received from the applicable bodies as required by law.
In total bewilderment of her traducers, it was discovered that the contractors were using their money to fund the projects as not a kobo had been spent from the BASA funds!
Being one not to be bedridden by setbacks, the minister rolled up her sleeves and returned to the drawing board with energy and invincible determination.
She embarked on the Aerotropolis project. This concept which has been embraced internationally is about building cities with complete infrastructure around airports.
Similar to Schipol in Germany, Amsterdam in Netherland and Heathrow in the United Kingdom, this new business module is yet another window to attract foreign investment and grow the local economy.
To harness the benefits of the critical infrastructure being put in place, Princess Oduah has embarked on an international investment road show to attract global players.
The investment road show being a key element of the road map for transformation of the country’s air transport industry is already yielding bountiful harvests in fits and bounds!
The Chinese have already signed an MOU with Nigeria to finance the construction of 11 new state-of-the-arts airports across Nigeria, out of which 6 will be for perishables.
The conferment of the award of LEADERSHIP Public Officer of the year 2011 to Princess Stella Oduah by Leadership Newspaper group did not come to many as a surprise.
This tireless workaholic who is not given to vain glories is a great believer in nation building.
In his treatise, James Thomas captures the essence “To be a great thinker and so always master of the situation, one must of necessity have been a great thinker in action. An eagle was never yet hatched from a goose’s egg’.
On Monday, October 22, 2012, the aviation industry in Nigeria stood still for President Goodluck Jonathan and this amazon and trail blaizer, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah as the first of the 11 re-modeled terminals was commissioned by the Secretary to the government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. The saying that seeing is believing came to the fore at that occasion.
Stakeholders who had doubted the reality of the transformation agenda had a change of heart when they saw the magnificence of the new terminal.
The wind has been taken off the sail of the incurable critics of the Honourable Minister, who may be busy now exploiting other means of finding specs in her eyes even when they have moles in their own eyes.
But the Princess Oduah we know cannot be deterred by such distractions! She has placed her hands on the plough and there is no looking back.
As the remaining 10 re-modeled airports await commissioning in quick succession in the next two months, work is set to commence on the remaining 10 airports in the second phase of the re-modeling project.
The airport landscape in Nigeria has become one huge construction site and Nigerians are it all to this woman of vision.
And to the man whose responsibility it is to implement the transformation agenda in FAAN, Mr. George Uriesi, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of FAAN.
His appointment as the helmsman in FAAN in October, 2011 has literally changed the landscape of the Authority and dramatically changed the attitude of staff to work.
His “letter to the staff”, on every important development in the Authority has elevated the staff’s commitment to duty to a new level. There is no wonder then that the transformation agenda is working in FAAN.
• Yakubu Dati is the General Manager (Corporate Communications of FAAN)