May 30, 2023

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SIRIKA AND OLUMIDE: The Pic Continuum – By Chris Aligbe

8 min read

On Wednesday, 9th March, the Ministry of Aviation announced the appointment of an Interim Managing Director for the much-awaited proposed National Flag Carrier – Nigeria Air, in the person of Capt. Dapo Olumide. In the official statement by the then Director of Information of the Ministry, Dr. James Odaudu announcing Capt. Olumide’s appointment, he said his responsibility is to push and pull through the processes and procedures necessary for the take-off of the new airline.

These include Registration of the airline, Acquisition of an Air Operating Certificate – AOC, Acquisition of offices, Engagement of Personnel and Acquisition and choice of Aircraft for the new airline.
His appointment came just five days after the Ministry took a major step in the ICRC approved Procurement Stage by advertising a call for private, local and international (airline) investors for the establishment of Nigeria’s National Flag Carrier – Nigeria Air.

The new Carrier has a Proposed equity structure of a total of 51% Nigerian (5% Government for sovereign cover and 46% Nigerian Financial and Institutional Investors) and 49% for International Private Investors which includes an airline. The request for proposal – RFP will terminate May 10. 2022.

The appointment of Capt. Olumide took the industry by surprise. It must have resulted from a headhunting which is a usual approach in such circumstances. Headhunts are used in turnarounds and start-ups.

SIFAX used this when it bought SAHCOL. In its need for a turnaround, through headhunt, it appointed Olu Owolabi, a former Nigeria Airways USA District Manager, who successfully took SAHCOL from its low level to an enviable height and profitability.

Capt Dapo Olumide, Managing Director designate, Nigeria Air

But why a Pilot? Globally, Pilots are not known to have been great Managers outside the Cockpit where they exhibit admirable technical competence and excellence. But as Dr Bernard Varr of the Late Hanzan Zayyad-led Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization – TCPC said, to use this competence as a basis to appoint Pilots to take charge outside the Cockpits “is an invalid extrapolation of technical competence to managerial competence”.

However, there are very few examples of Airlines that have been successfully managed by Captains. One example in Africa is Capt. Mohammed, managed Ethiopian Airlines in the 80s before he became the Secretary-General of AFRAA. In Nigeria, Captains usually referred to as PICs (Pilot in Command) have in not too recent past – 80s and 90s been appointed CEOs of Airlines and Aviation Agencies. But there is little or no records of great success attained.

However, in the last seven years or so, Hadi Sirika appeared to have engaged on a voyage of discovery by taking PICs out of the Cockpit to ground jobs. For instance, at NCAA, on the assumption of office in 2015, Sirika met Late Capt. Murthar Usman as the Director-General.

Rather than remove him, he watched Usman erect the building blocs on the foundation built by Demuren and ran a regulatory regime that put Nigeria on the comity of nations with the landmark safety record of five-year accident-free operation, as well as two ICAO, Certified Airports which no other nation in Africa and many in Asia, Europe and Americas were/are yet to attain. At the exit of Usman in 2019, Sirika brought in another PIC, Capt. Musa Nuhu, who until then was Nigeria’s Representative at the global industry regulatory body – ICAO. Nuhu, on assumption, was confronted with nearly intractable challenges arising from a global pandemic – COVID-19, which sent the entire global aviation industry tumbling into depression. The dexterity with which Nuhu managed and is managing this challenge is no doubt award-winning.

Senator Hadi Sirika, Aviation Minister

At NAMA, he appointed Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, who had just retired at the end of his five-year tenure.
Akinkuotu in his five-year period has to his credit,the stabilising of air space safety infrastructure and management, and the best industrial harmony ever in NAMA. The case of FAAN where in its over forty-years of existence, no Pilot has even been at its commanding height is thought-provoking.

FAAN, unlike NAMA and NCAA had never been run by a Pilot/Captain. But a little over three years ago, Sirika appointed a PIC, Capt. Hamisu Yadudu as CEO in FAAN. Yadudu had varied experiences as Boeing 747 Captain, Deputy Director at NEMA and Director of Airport Operations before his elevation. An Avionics Engineer and Certified International Airport Professional – IAP, Yadudu shows up as a team leader multi-task Manager and consummate manpower developer with a vision for airports of tomorrow and has recorded incredible successes that are outstanding.

Could the successes recorded by all the PICs cited above, one may ask, be what has led to what the title of this piece refers to as the PIC CONTINUUM? One that has made the Minister choose Captains as CEOs? More so, in Airline Management where Nigerians and global records show only a few acquittals of PICs.

And that is why Industry Stakeholders in particular and air travel passengers and the Nigerian public may interrogate Capt. Dapo Olumide’s appointment as Interim Managing Director of the new National Flag Carrier; Nigeria Air.

Recall that Nigeria Air is the eleventh attempt to have a befitting National Carrier since 1992 with ten of them having been unsuccessful for varied reasons.

Who then is Capt. Olumide? An incisive look into records indicate that the person of Olumide represents an intricate combination of sterling character, clear-sightedness, professional skills, deep understanding as well as a clear knowledge of financial management, repugnance for unprofitable financial deals as well as zeal to do things right as to achieve given objectives and unalloyed patriotic sentiment.

Capt. Olumide, who holds a Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Embryridle Aeronautics University, Florida, USA, along with Professional qualifications in Airline Operations, came to limelight when in 2001 he turned down his choice by the then Minister of Aviation, Late Dr Olusegun Agagu as the new Managing Director for Nigeria Airways.

This was after he came first in the competitive interview for the position. His reason was that, as CEO, he would not have the power to re-organize top and senior management which he was told was the responsibility of the Government. He saw this as an inhibition to the airline’s recovery and turnaround. For the first time, a Nigerian rejected a CEO appointment in the Aviation Sector based on principle.

Then, Olumide was the Deputy Managing Director of Aero Contractors. He rose to become the Managing Director of Aero but when the Owner-Board members’ imbroglio that led to downturn of that once formidable airline popped up, Capt Olumide walked away. He then joined African Finance Corporation – AFC, where he handled as part of his schedule, aviation financing.

Olumide’s greatest challenge was in 2009 when he was faced with the rescue of badly-run Branson/UBA Virgin Nigeria under Conrad Clifford. He was then the Chief Operating Officer – COO. By 2008, Virgin Nigeria had run into murky waters of financial deals prodded by insincerity, deceit and manoeuvres. The Virgin Group started pulling out when the CEO – Conrad Clifford was recalled on 18th June 2009 and the rest of top Management on July 4 same year.

With this unceremonious pull-out and withdrawal of technical support and Brand, the NCAA was to withdraw the Airline’s AOC but Dapo Olumide, then COO immediately secured Ethiopian Airlines as a technical partner, thus saving the airline from total collapse. At this time, UBA who then owned the airline with a financial exposure of over US$250million with its hollow “All Asset Debenture” appointed Olumide as Managing Director.

Here, all his experiences, exposure and character came to the fore.

On assumption, all the books became open to Olumide. He saw that against all global standards, the lease terms of the seven B737 in use by Virgin Nigeria were alarming and smacked of fraud. For instance, as against global monthly lease rate of US$120-125,000, Virgin Nigeria was US$181,000 in addition to US$151,000 maintenance reserve. Against the normal 3-year lease tenure, Virgin Nigeria was 5 years.

Also, monthly block hour rate was 200 hours as against global standards of 120 block hours. And in spite of the fact that Virgin Nigeria only used on the average 100 – 120 block hours monthly, it was paying for the 200 hours even when the aircraft was out of operation – AOG. Capt. Olumide immediately engaged Nick Fadugba, a seasoned Nigerian Consultant to re-negotiate the terms and brought them down to global standards. Olumide also re-negotiated the cost of the two Embraer 190 on order from US$30million down to US$28million.

He then began extensive route and management restructuring as well as introduced financial prudence that saw the airline starting a turnaround. It was at this point in time that UBA without informing Olumide sold the airline to Jimoh Ibrahim for N35billion. Olumide found no reason to tarry anymore and left.

I have gone this extent for Nigerians to have a glimpse of the pedigree of who the Ministry has chosen to midwife the actualization of its baby – the Nigeria Air. Without fear of any contradiction, Capt. Olumide stands tall as most probably the best for now in the industry and one can say the Ministry did not make mistake in its choice. With Olumide’s appointment, the Ministry has taken a major step to meet two of the conditions that will attract and guarantee investment and investors’ confidence, which are;

i. There is now a full swing effort to birth Nigeria Air. This is because Nigerians will not invest in a product that is not in existence. More so, in an industry with over 36 collapses, including three that got quoted on the Stock Exchange.

ii. It is hoped that at the end of the bidding process and emergence of a Technical Partner, the successful Partner will be a very reputable International Airline with a track record.

The success of Nigeria Air will be the story of a President with unwavering patriotic commitment to reverse the ignoble trends that predated him. It will be a story of determination of a Minister focused on drawing Nigeria level with the global industry in the airline Sub-sector and key in Nigeria to play its rightful role in SAATM as well as the role envisaged for the airline industry in AFCFTA for African unification by 2050.

No matter what, its success will be shared by all those who ventilated on the process of gestation and birth. Critiques and criticisms, genuine and however jaundiced, even mischiefs have all helped to steady the process. Nigeria Air will no doubt be a Buhari cum Sirika legacy of stoical commitment to aviation industry rebound.

Author: Chris Aligbe, Aviation Consultant. A former General Manager, Public Relations, Nigeria Airways
Culled from; Vanguard News Nigeria

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