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Checking Nigeria’s Air Traffic Controllers’ Strikes

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Air Traffic Controllers, under the auspices of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) recently withdrew their services and paralysed flight operations at the nation’s airports as they embarked on a six-hour warning strike.

The reason for embarking on the strike was to press home their demand for improved welfare, a demand they have been making since the past years. They equally alleged that another reason for the strike was the epileptic air navigation equipment for effective performance.

The strike had adverse effect on the nation’s economy because it disrupted many Nigerians from attending critical private, social and business meetings as movement of people were hampered.

The strike gave rise to delays, prompting some airlines to cancel flights to some destinations, resulting in loss of millions of naira while the action lasted.

It took the intervention of the management of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), who sent senior officials of the agency to the towers to control flight movement as to curb the adverse consequences of the strike.

Air Traffic Controllers (ATCS) have threatened to go on strike three times within this year, insisting that the management of NAMA must abide by the agreement it reached with the workers to improve their welfare last year. The six hours warning strike was to herald a total industrial action.

NATCA issued a statement that, “it was against the background of no action plan and political will to implement the agreements earlier entered into with the association and others that necessitated the corresponding action by the Air Traffic Controllers.

Despite calling off the planned indefinite strike by the workers, it is expected that the management would address the issues raised by the Air Controllers without allowing them the opportunity to invoke the industrial action that would put the country at the receiving end.

In the case of poor equipment, the air controllers cited incessant failure of air navigation facilities at airports nationwide leading to increase in work load of air traffic controllers and pilots.

A statement by NATCA and signed by its General Secretary, Mr Olawole Banji, said it was disheartening that in the last few months the communication, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) equipment has been epileptic.

Although the ATCS said that some employees in the agency have spent so much time and energy they would have expended in making facilities function optimally to feed the public with falsehoods as to the semi-ability of the (NS/ATM equipment to cover their ineptitude.

The statement said, “we can, however, say categorically that it is either the personnel responsible for the equipment are incompetent or the incessant failures are as a result of acts of sabortage on their part.

Experts in the aviation industry said because of the special work the controllers are doing, they deserve what they are asking for in the emoluments but lamented that the controllers have acquired the attitude of threatening to shut down the airspace unless their demands were met at the slightest provocation.

An aviation expert who does not want his name in print said when the Associated Aviation Charter flight crashed on take-off at the Murtala Muhammadi International Airport, Lagos, on October 3, 2013, the controllers cashed-in on the opportunity of the tragic incident to issue a statement, condemning the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) and claimed that the landing aids were not working despite the fact that the crash was caused by pilot error.

Again, there is this belief among air controllers that as far as the airspace management is concerned, they should have a pride of place. Part of their latest conditions is that every airport should be manned by a Traffic Controller.

But when they do this, they pitch themselves against engineers who ensure that their working equipment is functional without which the controllers cannot function.

Infact, one of the major challenges facing NAMA is the antagonism or rivalry between the engineers and the controllers. Most times when the controllers condemn their working equipment they want to convey the message that the engineers are not doing their work effectively.

The engineers on their part believe that without their input, there would have been no equipment to work with by the controllers. However, in the cat-and –dog relationship between the two professional bodies it is NAMA, as an agency, that loses.

The Management of NAMA, according to the General Manager, Public Affairs, Mr Olajumoke Adetona, said the agency had been consulting with the air traffic controllers and that the management has approved the controllers demand. He also said that the agency did not recognize any staff as superior to the other.

Nevertheless, NAMA must find a way of addressing the rivalry between the two professional bodies to have a smooth operation.

To achieve that they need to embark on sensitization of their workforce and reorientate them to be the best they can be without in fighting with other professional bodies.

NAMA should ensure that workers’ entitlements are paid as at when due to give them a sense of belonging while motivational incentives should be adopted such as best monthly worker and yearly best staff ceremony for the different categories of workers.

The scenario that gave room for such national embarrassment can be avoided if the authorities adopt a proactive approach to issues of staff welfare.

Therefore, the ministry of aviation should nip such circumstances in the bud before it escalates into full blown disagreement to warrant an industrial dispute.

The authorities should equally utilize the early warning signals for possible intervention before it degenerates to a situation where airline operations would not only be affected but the economy with the consequent battering of the country’s image abroad.

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COVID-19: Arik Airline Sacks 300 Staff

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At least 300 staff of Arik Air have been relieved of their appointments by the airline’s management.

This was announced in a statement by the airline on Friday.
It blamed the sacking on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
The press statement was titled, “Arik Air management declares 300 staff redundant”.
The company explained that a redundancy package would be provided for the affected workers with the help of the aviation unions.
The statement read in part, “Arising from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the constrained ability of the airline to complete heavy maintenance activities and return its planes to operations, stunted revenues against increasing operational costs, the management of Arik Air (In Receivership) has declared 300 staff members redundant to its current level of operations.
“The leadership of the impacted unions has been contacted to negotiate a redundancy package for the affected staff.”
The airline added that over 50 per cent of its workforce of over 1,600 staff have been on furlough in the past six months.
In a separate statement also forwarded to our correspondent by its Public Relations and Communications Manager, Banji Ola, the airline apologised to passengers whose travel plans were disrupted by the protest carried out by the National Union of Air Transport Employees on December 3, 2020.
The picketing disrupted operations in Lagos and prevented the airline from processing passengers at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Domestic Terminal 1 and 2.

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S’East Leaders Laud FG Over EndSARS

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South-East leaders on Saturday, lauded the Federal Government on the matured and responsive manner it handled all issues relating to the EndSARS protest and agitation.
The leaders of the zone, which included Governors, Senators, House of Representatives members as well as traditional, religious and youth leaders, gave the commendation in a communiqué issued after their meeting with a Presidential delegation in Enugu.
The presidential delegation was led by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who is the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“We thank President Buhari for the speed and restraint with which he handled the EndSARS protest, which has engendered peace throughout the country, especially the South-East.
“We, therefore, request the President to look into demands of various groups and youths with a view to resolving them,’’ the statement, which was read by the Chairman of South-East Governors’ Forum, Governor Dave Umehi, said.
It also called for joint operation by security agencies and local vigilant groups into all forests in the zone to flush out criminals and killer herdsmen with AK47 rifles.
“But we pledge our commitment to continuous coexistence with peaceful herdsmen who have been living peacefully with us.
“We stand for an indivisible and united Nigeria, built on love, fairness, equity and justice. We believe that under this platform – NIGERIA; we are bigger and stronger,’’ it said.
It also called on the Federal Government to continue its support and diplomatic push for the former Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to be elected as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The statement thanked the Federal Government for the timely interventions in Akanu Ibiam International Airport rehabilitation as well as intervention in road infrastructures in the zone.
“We are grateful for the attention given to the second Niger Bridge and completion and inauguration of the Zik’s mausoleum.
“However, we urge the Federal Government to give attention to the completion of the current road projects within the zone,’’ it said.
The statement said that the states in the zone will provide money for the compensation for those affected by the EndSARS protest, help to rebuild police stations and their logistics; while engaging the youths constantly to forestall any violent development in the zone.
“We have plans to set up various empowerment programmes to gainfully engage the youths. The governors also plan to mainstream the youths in their governance to give them a sense of belonging.

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Minister Hails Meeting With S’East Leaders

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The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has described as “extremely fruitful” the meeting which a presidential team had with leaders and stakeholders of the South-East.
“The meeting of the presidential delegation with South-East leaders was very useful,’’ Mohammed told journalists on Sunday in Enugu.
The delegation, led by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, met for more than eight hours in Enugu with selected South-East leaders.
Mohammed said that it was quite instructive that all the groups which took part in the meeting believed in the unity and oneness of the country, pointing out that they clearly spelt out this in their presentations.
“We listened clearly and carefully to all the positions and demands and we are going back to report directly to President Buhari,’’ the minister said.
He noted that the Federal Government had been spreading development and infrastructure to all parts of the country, simultaneously and equitably.
“We want the South-East people to be confident that the Federal Government is spreading development and infrastructure to all parts of the country equitably and will never marginalise any zone in the ongoing development and infrastructure agenda.
“This is what I want to assure Nigerians living in the South-East,’’ Mohammed noted.
According to the minister, when the team gets back to Abuja it will see what can be done immediately concerning some of the positions and demands made by the South-East leaders.
The presidential delegation met with South-East governors, statesmen, elders, religious and traditional leaders, as well as market women and youth leaders.

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