NLC, TUC undermine aviation by picketing airports – FAAN MD
The Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu in this interview speaks on industrial action in the aviation industry especially the picketing by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). He also spoke on the recent demolition of houses at Ajao Estate near the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
The NLC last week picketed major airports in Nigeria over an issue with the Imo State government, what is the implication of such action on the aviation industry?
It is very disappointing, especially given the fact that the NLC acted in clear disregard of the law with impunity. They wrote to us that their people in aviation should come and picket the Lagos Airport and they should not allow flights to go to Owerri Airport because their members were harassed by the Imo State government.
They deliberately planned that action just to massage their ego. It has nothing to do with staff, workers or even the aviation industry and Nigeria. For any organisation that is licensed by the government to behave in personal interest and not national interest, is very unfortunate. It has nothing to do with labour or workers in Nigeria.
In fact, they undermined aviation and other workers because people lost their flights. I pray no one dies. The more you distress aviation, the more you are creating vulnerability for uncertainty. What happened that day was very regrettable and just a sign of ego massage and I think that has no place in aviation.
The second reason is that it is illegal. The Nigeria Civil Aviation Act has put aviation as an essential service and in essential services, there is no room for picketing or blocking of operations because all Nigerians need it. The NLC themselves, I don’t think they are up to 200 million and Nigeria has a population of 200 million. So, they should not come and massage their ego at the airport where it is already prohibited by law.
They created an illegality and undermined the nation. The act was all over the world and I think it is very bad and unacceptable. We are not going to take it from them.
What was the response of FAAN to the picketing exercise?
When we saw it, I spent the last three days at FAAN coordinating it and we wrote a strongly worded letter to the minister of aviation, calling on the government to directly protect aviation from NLC and similar actions. There are so many other avenues in Nigeria where you can seek redress. This is not the 1970s; Nigeria has evolved, aviation has evolved. Everything has evolved and NLC needs to evolve in their processes and their ways and means of getting what they want.
I think picketing needs to evolve. Nobody pickets in modern society now. Anybody or organisation that feels the only way they can get what they need is to picket organisations, personally, we will fight it. I am not talking about FAAN. I am talking about aviation generally. I am talking about everyone and other organisations in the sector.
What do you expect from the government?
We have written to the minister, telling them the government needs to protect aviation from the action of the NLC. Airports are not an avenue for anybody to come and exercise violent behaviour or mob action. We will not take it.
NLC should stay away from aviation. I didn’t say, stay away from FAAN, but from the airports generally. As long as they keep on picketing, they should stay away. We need stakeholders’ confidence. If the industry is killed through lack of confidence, nobody will come in. It is Nigeria that will lose.
So, NLC should stay away from aviation; airlines, catering services, and ground handling, agencies. We don’t need a negative influence on our staff. The whole world doesn’t need mob action.
I want to commend all our aviation unions because none of them participated in this. They understand that this is where they earn their livelihood. We have unions in aviation and the directorate of human resources and several other places that you can go to vent your anger and seek redress.
The NCAA has a consumer protection department and the federal government has more than three agencies that can assist you to protect the interest of workers and address labour disputes. You can even go to the National Assembly. It is not acceptable. Please, you need to stay away from aviation.
There have been mixed reactions over the recent demolition of 13 houses at Ajao Estate. Can you give an insight into what really transpired?
The buildings demolished at Runway View Estate at Ajao Estate were illegally constructed and left standing in positions that are clearly very dangerous to our operations. A few days ago, we had a session at the House and we made it clear that our motive and primary aim of the exercise was for safety and security of flight operations and also the safety and security of those inside the houses.
The exercise is for the dual purposes of our own safety and security and overall, for international standards.
The exercise is concluded and I am very sure the House Committee on Aviation will communicate their findings to Nigerians on the exercise.
How do we prevent future encroachment?
I don’t think it was demolition, but removal of illegal buildings by FAAN. There is a purpose and direction for removing the illegal structures. The illegal owners may have lost money, but we saved lives.
FAAN will continue to do oversight, monitor and carry out surveillance of the place in conjunction with the other residents of the area, but it is a case of direct and willful disregard to the authority and rule of law. That was what created it. We also have regular patrols in those areas.
We are going to quickly reerect and protect the fencing and lastly, we have procured a radar surveillance patrol system, which is automatic and zooms around 360 degrees with a radius of about 8km, which means it goes beyond the airport itself. It can spot anything beyond the airport. We spent about three years processing it and right now, it is on the high sea for installation at Lagos and Abuja airports. If it detects any image, even a rabbit it will focus on it.
We also bought a mobile rationale video for that purpose. We have the automatic and the manual patrols. They are very effective for the people residing in the area. What went on is not for lack of patrol, but for clear willful disregard to the laws. It has always been protected.
Why did it take so long to remove the structures?
People are not listening. They kept on building. Now, we have a bigger reason – the recertification of the airport. The international community knows it is a violation of safety. When we got the first one, these factors were among the issues they raised and they gave us time to remedy it before they return for recertification. We told them to give us one year to address it, but it took us four years to achieve.
So, it took so long because we were briefing the residents on development. This is something that has been happening over the past 30 years. For the time that it happened, we were not there, but I can’t answer that.
In fact, we were forced to take this action, but there is a need for us to protect the airport for recertification.