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Aviation Unions: Is NCAA Compromised?

By Kabir Hadejia

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is the umbrella body saddled with the onerous task of regulating the country’s aviation sector. With this, the authority must both be technically and procedurally competent to handle any, or all the issues in the industry. Unlike the road transport sector that is an all-comers’ affairs because its regulations are not obeyed, making it to be in total disarray, leading to colossal loss of lives and property, the aviation sector must continue to maintain its integrity and be highly regulated because a single plane crash may be so catastrophic that it can wipe out several lives, both of the flyers and those on the ground. So, in essence, there must be no half-measure in aviation, as no aircraft can park in the sky for repairs of any sort, unlike road transportation.

NCAA is not only saddled with the responsibility of ensuring safety in the sky, it is also to ensure peace in the aviation sector so that those operating therein will do so seamlessly. This is because, if all the aircraft landing and taking off in the country and all the facilities are in perfect order, but are operating in a chaotic environment, NCAA would have been seen to have failed in an aspect of its statutory duties. Therefore, NCAA has a responsibility to ensure that all government policies and contracts are sustained for the enhancement of safety in the industry. It also has a responsibility to educate the monstrous unions in the sector who are always hell-bent in disrupting the prevailing peace despite the Federal Government’s attempts to rejuvenate and attract foreign investors to the aviation industry.

It is annoying and equally unbelievable that some of these union officials are uninformed, as they are displaying a lot ignorance and promoting misinformation and disinformation about happenings in the industry, all in an attempt to portray those who are providing jobs for teeming Nigerians and foreigners alike in bad light in the name of unionism. They selfishly do this to strengthen their arguments laced with half-truths and outright lies to curry public sympathy for their ill-decisions of disrupting the operations of the airlines and the airport terminals in ways reminiscence of thuggery.

For instance, it is shocking, embarrassing and indeed laughable that the Secretary General of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Mr. Olayinka Abioye, would step out at a recent stakeholders forum organized by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) in Lagos to say that Dana Air has surreptitiously brought in a foreign airline, Asky, to operate domestic flights in Nigeria, when in actual fact, the plane is in on wet-lease to Dana and NCAA approved it. Anybody worth its salt in the aviation industry should know that airlines are protected by law to go on either wet-lease or dry lease of aircraft from other airlines. This clearly shows the level of ignorance and illiteracy among the aviation union leaders who claim to be fighting for the rights of workers. It is like the blind leading the eyed.

There is hardly any critical investor in the aviation industry today who has not tasted the bitter pill of the unions’ unruliness and thuggery. Airlines, such as Arik, Aero, Dana, Landover and others have lost millions of dollars to the unions’ brigandage in the name of picketing. Now, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, operators of the internationally-acclaimed Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two (MMA2), has been under the constant threats of the unions since May, this year.

As an observer and a critical stakeholder in the sector, I have watched in awe how the unions have been issuing all sorts of threats and ultimatums publicly to the terminal operators to recall some staff members relieved of their jobs for incompetency or old age, as Bi-Courtney would later explain. I have equally watched how Bi-Courtney has approached the government and NCAA severally with a lot of maturity and superior arguments, despite the threats to the MMA2 Concession from different quarters. I have read and digested the firm’s response to the unions’ allegations and I have rightly come to the conclusion that these are real needless threats. Fortunately, many other stakeholders have the same thought about the whole thing. The basic thing is that you can never force an employee on an unwilling employer.

However, I am seriously worried that issues that are being discussed at various meetings both parties are holding and the contents of correspondences to NCAA to amicably resolve the crisis are being pushed to the public space by the unions, who obviously are workers of the aviation agencies, to curry public sympathy. This to me is very unfair on the part of the government.

In as much as the unions have the right to protect their members anywhere they are, the employers they have been fighting in the industry also have the right to justly hire and fire for without the investors, there would not be anywhere for the employees to work and claim they belong to any union. NCAA must ring this into the ears of the union people, if they have not done so already.

Part V of the Trade Union Act under the Miscellaneous and General Provisions in Section 43 (sub-sections 1, 1A and 2) outline everything that Labour must and must not do when carrying out Peaceful Picketing. In Section 43 (1) with the heading, Peaceful Picketing, the Act says: “It shall be lawful for one or more persons, acting on their own behalf or on behalf of a trade union or registered Federation of Trade Unions or of an individual employer or firm in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, to attend at or near a house or place where a person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, if they so attend merely for the purpose of PEACEFULLY OBTAINING (emphasis mine) or communicating information or of peacefully persuading any person to work or abstain from working.”

While sub-section 1A says: “No person shall subject any other person to any kind of constraint or restriction of his personal freedom in the course of
persuasion, sub-section 1B adds, “No trade union or registered Federation of Trade Unions or any member thereof shall in the course of any strike action compel any person who is not a member of its union to join any strike or in any highways, institutions or premises of any kind for the purposes of giving effect to the strike.”

And sub-section (2) concludes: “Accordingly, the doing of anything declared by sub-section (1) of this section to be lawful shall not constitute an offence under any law in force in Nigeria, or any part thereof, and in particular shall not constitute an offence under Section 366 of the Criminal Code or any corresponding enactment in force in any part of Nigeria.”

It therefore means that although the labour unions have the right to peaceful picketing, any attempt to restrict or compel other Nigerians, or block the highways, or any business premises, or destroy the assets of the business to give effect to their strike, or picketing is a criminal offence.

Therefore, NCAA and the security agencies have a duty to ensure that no labour union has the right to disrupt the operations or destroy the assets of any operator in the aviation sector, as this will certainly send a wrong signal to the international community that Nigeria is one of the most volatile countries in the world to invest in; that Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world where the government will sign an agreement and renege; that Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world where the government will compete vehemently with its investors as a way of destroying their businesses.

The authority must rein in the unions and act as the impartial arbiter in all of these crises the unions are creating here and there because, if you decide to go to war before you jaw-jaw, you will still come round and jaw-jaw after the war. Any thoughtless strike by the unions will have serious bandwagon effects on the economy of the country.

•Hadejia sent in this piece from Abuja.

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