Bowing to Lawmakers’ Pressure

Demuren (middle) receiving US FAA Category One Certification from former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders
Demuren (middle) receiving US FAA Category One Certification from former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders

President Goodluck Jonathan finally succumbs to National Assembly pressures, sacks Harold Demuren, director-general of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority

|  By Maureen Chigbo  |  Mar. 25, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

FOR the past nine months, the National Assembly has been baying for his head. The aviation committees of the two arms of the National Assembly, which investigated the fatal Dana plane crash June 3, 2012, had urged the federal government to sack Harold Demuren for negligence of duty. But President Goodluck Jonathan paid no heed to the lawmakers demand. It was then unexpected when the government did a u-turn and axed Demuren, the long embattled director-general of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, March 12.

The sack of Demuren had been long overdue. He was supposed to have been retired long before now because his tenure as the director-general had expired. But he has hanged on to power to the bewilderment of watchers in the aviation sector.  In a statement signed by Anyim Pius Anyim, secretary to the government of the federation, the government said his sack was caused by his failure to give a satisfactory response to stakeholders in the aviation sector.

Demuren
Demuren

The three-paragraph statement read: “Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has approved the removal of Dr. Harold Olusegun Demuren from office as the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, with effect from March 12, This is consequent upon a careful consideration of Dr. Demuren’s unsatisfactory response to the numerous concerns of stakeholders in the aviation sector. Mr. President wishes him well in his future endeavours.”

Following the Dana plane crash last year, the National Assembly undertook a probe of the aviation sector. The investigation by both chambers of parliament had unearthed the rot in the sector and blamed Denuren for turning a blind eye to the underhand dealings in the sector and compromising safety. This led to the insistence by the House of Representatives for his sack. There was also a similar the recommendation of the Senate Committee on Aviation, which had indicted him.

The sacking of Demuren may not be a surprise to aviation analysts who have watched the ding-dong relationship between him and the National Assembly. Some analysts are of the view that Demuren should have seen the hand writing on the wall and made a dignified departure by resigning instead of waiting for the government to disgrace him. But Chris Aligbe, aviation consultant, said that the critical thing is not whether he is sacked.  “I am doing a prognosis rather than a post mortem of his removal. I am reflecting on how the industry should take off from where he stopped and where we are going,” he said. According to him, the issues are not quite that simple. They issues are by far large. I don’t want to mess it up. I am reflecting on it. It has happened. We should look ahead. History will definitely give him a place of pride in the industry. History will be kind to him”, Aligbe said.

He was right when he said that Demuren will be judged kindly by history.  He came to NCAA in late 2005 when there was loss of confidence in air travel and general apathy in the aviation industry following two fatal air disasters in a span of seven weeks. These left the nation mourning. The two incidents involved Bellview Airlines flight 210 which killed all the 117 people on board on October 22, and Sosoliso Airlines flight 1145 that killed 105 of the 108 passengers, including 61 students from Loyola Jesuit College on December 10, 2005.

Following these tragic events, the federal government appointed Demuren to head the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority as its director-general in late December 2005 to revamp, reposition and restore confidence in domestic air travel. After his appointment, Demuren immediately took on the challenge of reforming the Nigerian Aviation sector and restoring the lost confidence in the Industry by drawing up a strategic short, medium and long-term plans anchored on Safety, Security and Satisfaction (consumer) in that order of priority.

Demuren (middle) leading NCAA Team conducting a routine ramp safety inspection at a Nigerian Airport
Demuren (middle) leading NCAA Team conducting a routine ramp safety inspection at a Nigerian Airport

Demuren introduced a safety reform agenda which enthroned professionalism, integrity and transparency in the conduct of aviation business. In December 2009, Demuren was the first to provide vital information to the public on facts leading to Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab’s failed attempt in the “Christmas Day Bombing”.  These included how Farouk bought his ticket in Accra, Ghana, on KLM Airlines, proceeded on December 24, through the normal screening and check-in process, and had his US Visa scanned through the Advance Passenger Information System which returned a “no-objection”.

Demuren also defended the Nigerian airport security system by promptly providing information and footage, demonstrating the advance security and technological solutions deployed in Nigeria. The global community was astonished at the degree of details and depth of the information provided by a so-called 3rd world country in contrast to its reputation for chaos and mediocrity.

Interestingly, Schipol, Amsterdam Airport, Farouk’s transit port, was unable to detect any irregularity during the security screening process. Following this incident and in order to enhance safety and security, Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos became one of the first worldwide to deploy full body scanners and explosive detection systems.

His effort to entrench safety in the aviation sector paid off. On August 23, 2010,  Nigeria attained American Federal Aviation Administration International Aviation Safety Assessment (FAA IASA) Category One Certification. This allowed direct flights from Nigeria to Continental United States. Prior to his appointment in 2005, there were no direct flights between Nigeria and the USA. But today, there are now several direct flights between Nigeria and U.S. destinations including Atlanta, New York, Washington D.C. and Houston.

Demuren retired from the federal ministry of aviation in 1995. After retirement, he worked as aviation consultant and later formed Afrijet Airlines in 1998. Afrijet Airlines became one of the biggest Cargo Airlines in the country by 2005 servicing various cargo destinations on the continent. The airline also had strategic alliances with foreign partners including MK Airlines U.K. and Panalpina World Transport (Nigeria) Limited, which expanded cargo aircraft operations and freight services from Europe (Luxembourg, London, Ostend, Munich, etc.) to Nigeria (Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt) and to other major African cities including Nairobi, Kinshasa, Accra, Johannesburg, and Malabo. In addition to operating cargo services from Nigeria, the airline also operated passenger flights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

He was the managing director of Afrijet Airlines until he was appointed as director general of the NCAA. No doubt, now that he has been sacked, he will return  to private practice.

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