The recent development where private jet operators who were licenced by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to carry out their operations in line with the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC), have turned their private jets into revenue making ventures is giving the Aviation Minister, Chief Osita Chidoka, NCAA, stakeholders and other Nigerians serious cause for concern . The alleged lease of the Canadian Bombardier Challenger 600 private jet belonging to the President of Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN) to the Green Coast Produce Company Limited for the $9.3milion “black market” arms deal in South Africa, has heightened the fear of the regulatory authority, stakeholders and other Nigerians. The irony of the scenarios playing out in the aviation industry is that, while dozens of Nigerians are spending millions of dollars for the luxury of private travel, the poverty level in the oil-rich country is continually on the rise, with almost 100 million Nigerians, out of estimated population of 170 million, living on less than a dollar a day. In this special report, our correspondents, Sylvester Enoghase, Emma Okwuke ,Abel Orukpe and Andrew Airahuobhor, take a look at the aviation industry, its health status, the proliferation of private jets, the owners and the Federal Government’s move to clamp down on recalcitrant private jet operators, among other issues.
In a related development, a fellow pastor, Chris Okotie also queried his (Oritsejafor’s) closeness to the Presidency and called on him to resign as the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Also, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, in his reaction told our correspondent that the CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, whose private jet was allegedly used to smuggle $9.3 million into South Africa, breached the law and therefore cannot divorce himself from the controversy surrounding the money.
Although, Oritsejafor has denounced the two Nigerians and an Israeli arrested in connection with the money, Falana insisted that the influential pastor cannot dismiss the scandal with a wave of the hand, adding, “in recent time, some of our pastors have been indicted in the United Kingdom for investing church funds in business in violation of the Charity Act. ”
The rights activist contended that the explanation by CAN president that the jet was leased to another company is an admission of the breach of the law.
He said, “A jet registered for the facilitation of evangelism cannot be leased to another company for commercial purposes as churches are registered under part C of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) as non-profit making organizations.
“If Pastor Oritsejafor is lucky that he is not prosecuted for breaching the CAMA, he owes Nigerians a public apology. The CAN leadership cannot afford to engage in attacking its political opponents in a matter pertaining to the breach of the law.”
Falana, who also noted that the Federal Government is presently relying on diplomatic resolution of the money laundering case pointed out that such effort will not yield any result.
#BringBackOurGirls# threat
The #BringBackOurGirls# campaign group, in Abuja called for more public outcry over the $9.3 million cash found in Pastor Oritsejafor’s private jet in South Africa, saying it has concluded arrangement to sue the CAN president and the Federal Government over it.
According to the group: “We need more pressure more than ever; this is tax payers money, we must speak up any time an injustice is done especially when it is about infiltration of arms because that is what brought us here. There is need for a louder cry about this because quietly people are forgetting about the $9.3 million, it will continue if we don’t do anything.
“By next week you will have something different, we are working with our lawyers to sue Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and the Federal Government.”
More private jets, more jobless pilots, engineers
It is a paradox. As more and more Nigerians own private jets, the number of jobless indigenous pilots and aircraft engineers has remained high and increasing. This is being attributed to the fact that the jets are not registered in the country, hence Nigerian engineers are not allowed to maintain them and foreign pilots and crew fly the jets.
Unemployed Nigerian pilots and aircraft engineers are said to exceed 800, despite the difficulty and high cost of training involved.
President of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Isaac Balami told Daily Independent that many Nigerian private jets owners are not patriotic. This is because they are not necessarily concerned about job creation in the aviation sector as their pilots, engineers and cabin crew members are foreigners.
“The problem is that we have over 200 private jets parked yet we have hundreds of pilots and aircraft engineers jobless.,” Balami said, adding, “We have over 400 pilots that don’t have jobs in Nigeria. We have about the same number of aircraft engineers that are jobless.”
He said that it is wrong to use foreign pilots, engineers and crews on jets operating in Nigeria. “It affects the economy, it affects job creation.”
He said among the jobless pilots and engineers are young graduates that have been trained within and outside the country and are eminently qualified.
“I think we are number three in private jets ownership after United States of America (USA) and China. It’s a good development, it means that people can afford to buy jets. In their own world, the economy is growing,” Balami said.
He also expressed concern about foreign registration of private jets owned by Nigerians despite the fact that Nigeria passed the rigorous category 1, implying that any plane registered in Nigeria can fly to any part of the world.
“Part of our worry at NAAPE is that most of the owners of those jets are not patriotic. Their own is that they are billionaires and can afford private jets and register them abroad. But they forget that in other parts of the world, the regulation is clear. Aircraft cannot be in a land with foreign registration.
“It is like you bringing a car from the USA and using it here with a foreign registration. There is a particular period you are allowed to use the USA number plate after which you need to go to the Federal Road Safety Corps and get a Nigerian number plate.
“In our sector, most people buy aircrafts, they want it to be registered in UAE or elsewhere. There were challenges in the past but things are better now. That we were able to pass the category 1 is enough sign that the world have trusted us enough. It means that an aircraft can fly from here to USA and anywhere even when it is Nigerian registered.
“Once it is a foreign registered aircraft, a Nigerian engineer cannot fix it, a foreign engineer will be the one to fix it.
“To me, we like what the minister has done. You cannot just bring an airicraft, registered in the USA, your pilot, co-pilot, engineer, even cabin crew, people who will serve coffee are foreigners. I think it is foolishness on the part of jet owners. If they are patriotic or love this country, they should be concerned about job creation.
“What the minister is doing is laudable and NAAPE supports the Federal Government provided it will be implemented and our people can have jobs.”
Balami said it is easy for Nigerian government to ensure that private jet owners comply with aviation regulations. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) can do that by checking aircraft on the ground to find out where it was registered, who is the pilot, engineer and whether it is registered for private use or commercial.
“When you bring in an aircraft and you want it to be doing private charter because you are a big man, then register it as commercial. You cannot be using personal aircraft and be doing commercial charter. When you are not meant for commercial and you do it, you are depriving Nigerians from having jobs.
“Go and register it on commercial schedule or non-schedule operations. Nobody will stop you if you do that. If you want to do commercial flights, register the aircraft as such and employ Nigerians.”
He said it is necessary Nigeria begins to do things right, lamenting that some people have turned Nigeria into a jungle where anything goes. “It is wrong. Let them employ our people, register the jets in Nigeria as commercial, Nigerians will have jobs,” Balami said.
Misplaced values and priorities
A maritime consultant, Charles Okorefe told Daily Independent that it is not a cheery news that Nigerian is number three in the world in terms of private jets ownership. He said there is a problem of misplaced values and priorities if Nigeria is number three in private jets ownership.
“It is not cheery news, because being number three in the world, you would want to ask what is the position of our economy in the world? I think that should be the starting point and you discover that we are no where near even number 20 in terms of economic development.”
He said that the irony of it all is that despite the high number of private jet ownership in the country, there is a high rate of unemployment among pilots and engineers. He called on Government to enact a law like the Inland and Coastal Shipping (Cabotage) Act operating in the maritime sector, also in the aviation sector.
“I am aware that indigenous pilots who have been trained at the academy in Kaduna and overseas have no jobs. I think the Government has to do something about the situation. Just like the Cabotage Act in the maritime sector precludes foreign seafarers from operating here, I think there should be a law also to that effect.
“This is because, it is a massive drain on the nation’s economy in terms of capital flight from wages paid to foreign pilots operating here. I think registration fees ought to come to the Nigerian authorities saddled with such responsibilities.
He said that since the private jets are owned by Nigerians, they should also be registered in the country and pilots sourced locally.
He noted that whether the private jets are foreign registered or not, they will definitely comply with the nation’s aviation rules and regulations as it is obtainable all over the world because every country has their set rules guiding their airspace and even airports operations.
He said they will comply in terms of necessary fees payable, including landing fees, parking fees, , otherwise, the NCAA will curtail their operations.
Essence of indigenous crew members
Make them indigenous, the same thing as the registration. It is an anomaly.
“In fact, we should start with our Presidential fleet which has about 10 or more aircraft . What does he do with such? That is enough to be a starting point for a new Nigeian Airways fleet. I think the misplaced priority starts from the Presidency which is acquiring aircraft every now and then which is not in the national interest, bearing in mind the economic situation we are in at the moment.
“So, I think there should be a rethink in what I will call primitive acquisitions. They are not necessary. ”
He said if he were to advise the aviation minister, he would tell him to tax private jets heavily. This is because the owners have money to acquire the jets and the country is in need of money. “Since they can acquire such, you cannot tell them not to have it, it is their personal priority, but they should be heavily taxed,” Okorefe said.
Kudos for Minister
A transport researcher, Cornelius Popoola, who is the CEO of POFEC Research and Consulting has commended the Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka on decisions reached on private jet companies that operate beyond their flight operations clearance certificate (FOCC),
He said the action will not only bring sanity and safety to Nigerian Aviation, but will also reduce corruption and money laundering in Nigeria. “First and foremost, I will like to commend the effort of the Aviation Minister – Chief Osita Chidoka, on sanctioning decision of private jet companies that operate beyond their FOCC.”
He said but for this newly stringent measures imposed on private jet owners to be achieved, aviation regulatory bodies can instigate strong teams to execute this onerous assignment of ensuring safety in Nigeria airways. “Also, the team should ensure adequate sanctions for private jet owners’ defaulters without fear or compromise and should not mind whosoever is involved,” he said.