Appreciating Keyamo and his laudable reforms in aviation sector


By Toby Prince

The darker it becomes, the brighter the shining of the star. That’s the case with the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo S.A.N. Honesty is a virtue, so they say. But you will never know how important honesty has become until something joins you with the Nigerian public service where this is a threat.

When President Bola Ahmed Tinubu appointed Mr Keyamo to head the aviation ministry, not much was expected from him. A lawyer with no previous experience in the sector, Keyamo was seen as a square peg in a round hole. Many dismissed him with the wave of the hand claiming he was just a loud activist who does not understand the rudiments of government talk more of a technical ministry like aviation.

But in less than seven months in office, Mr Keyamo has proven his doubters wrong. His commitment to lasting reforms in the industry is now yielding unprecedented returns for the good of the country. The many positives of President Tinubu’s government in the last 10 months can never be completed without recounting the giant strides being recorded in the aviation sector.

One of the darkest spots of the immediate past administration was the controversy surrounding the ill-fated Nigeria Air. The outgone Minister of Aviation had hurriedly packaged a “deal” with a foreign Airline, branded one of their aircraft in Nigerian robes and invited the world to come and watch the official commissioning of a Nigerian National Carrier.

But it took no time before the bubble burst. The national carrier never operated a single flight in or out of the country before it disappeared with the wind. The deal was shrouded in secrecy if not mystery. A comprehensive postmortem has now been undertaken by a committee set up by Mr Keyamo revealing all manner of economic sabotage against the country and the report is now on the table of Mr President waiting for further action.

The Nigerian bureaucracy is the hub of corruption. International agencies and multilateral organisations run from Nigeria because they cannot withstand the dirty deals prevalent in the system. We are the headquarters of “kickback” in the world.

Loans from international finance institutions are padded with bribes . In applying for contracts that have any involvement of government, enough provisions must be made for kickbacks which must be remitted from the very first instalment if not, regardless of the competence of your organisation, a reason would be found to disqualify you.

That’s the Nigerian system or the Nigerian way everyone has become used to. It’s no respecter of person. If you get the opportunity to serve and you’re not ready to play ball, they will set you up and rope you into a mess that you won’t be able to get out of. This system has swallowed some of the best brains the nation ever produced.

Mr Keyamo’s first stint as Minister of State for Labour and Employment in the immediate past administration must have taught him some valuable lessons and opened his eyes to the realities of our system. So he came prepared to confront the demons holding back our progress and stopping us from being counted among the committee of noble nations.

On March 30, 2024, Air Peace, an indigenous airline made its inaugural flight from the Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos to Gatwick Airport in London as a Nigerian flag carrier. The very lucrative route has been solely operated by foreign airlines for almost a decade since the last time a national carrier competed with others on the route.

This is another credit to the policies of Mr Keyamo who is bringing back competition, encouraging indigenous airlines and eliminating corruption from the sector. The conspiracy between high government officials and foreign airline operators to keep frustrating anything Nigerian on the international route for their selfish gains is being brought to an end.

The impact of the entrance of Air Peace on the Lagos – London route was instant as foreign airlines who exploited Nigerians for years and made international travel hell for them quickly began to adjust their ticket fares downwards to remain competitive. Some went as low as half of what they were charging.

Many years ago, there was this speculation that whenever you load the recharge card of a particular mobile communication network, a certain amount of money goes into the account of a government official. It was no surprise therefore when the official in question left public office, the recharge code for the mobile network changed.

Part of the excesses being paid in fares by Nigerians was allegedly being used to wet the palms of corrupt government officials in charge of policies and regulatory agencies under the Ministry of Aviation. Mr Keyamo did not only turn a blind eye to those gratifications which was like the statutory right of his predecessors, but also put in place machinery that would check and prevent his subordinates from going behind him to sabotage the system.

Today, Air Peace is equipped for the route and is expecting more aircraft to boost their fleet in the coming days, thanks to the policy of encouraging indigenous operators as being implemented by the Honourable Minister. In February this year, Mr Keyamo led a delegation of private airline operators to the headquarters of Airbus in France to interface with the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers.

The purpose of the interface was to smoothen relations and facilitate the leasing of their aircraft to our local operators at market-friendly rates. At the time, Mr Keyamo said “Our governmental goal is to ensure the availability of these aircraft to our local carriers at economical rates”. This saying is now becoming a reality. What we see with Air Peace today is the product of that policy direction and diplomatic shuttle and there’s still more to come.

Mr Keyamo and his Ministry are pacesetters blazing the trail in an area that’s dear to many Nigerians. In the maritime sector, there’s a Cabotage Law designed to encourage indigenous participation in the maritime industry but currently lying fallow or being poorly implemented to the detriment of the country and the advantage of foreign operators who run the show on our waterways without competitors. No other sector has Nigerians suffered in these regards more than the Pay TV sector.

There’s a monopoly there and Nigerians are not afforded the least of options. HITV, an indigenous Pay TV company attempted to break this monopoly some years ago but was frustrated by the smart guys in the industry who delight in conspiring with our foreign oppressors. Thankfully, the MD/CEO of the defunct HITV, Mr Toyi Subair is currently serving as Special Assistant to Mr President on Domestic Affairs.

Nigerians hope that other cabinet ministers and senior officials in President Tinubu’s government will take a cue from the zeal, enthusiasm and total commitment shown so far by the aviation minister in promoting local operators in the aviation industry to replicate the same in their ministries or agencies under their watch.

Like Air Peace is doing by forcing foreign airlines to reduce the cost of their tickets, Nigerians were told some years ago that per-second billing was not possible in the telecommunications industry by the first set of licenced Mobile Telephone Operators in the country until Global Communications Limited (Glo), an indigenous company entered the market. They launched their products with per second as their default billing system and suddenly, those who said per second billing was not easy to achieve began to switch to the billing system.

Hopefully, Mr Keyamo’s reforms will soon extend to, and find a lasting solution to delayed and cancelled flights which has become a new normal for our domestic flight operators. We also have a role to play by continuously patronising any and everything in Nigeria.

It is by so doing that we can grow the economy, create jobs, control inflation, stabilise the exchange rate and improve the living conditions of our people. We must continue to guide the fact that there’s nothing anyone can do for us that we can not do for ourselves. That’s how to be a proud and patriotic Nigerian.

*Prince is a good governance advocate writing from Abuja