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Abuja ICAO World Aviation Forum: The audacity of faith

ICAO

The International Civil Aviation Organization “World Aviation Forum” (IWAF) held in Abuja between November 20th and 22nd, 2017 may have come and gone, but the wave of deeper reflections and awakening on the aviation industry, which it has thrown into motion will no doubt surge through Nigeria, and indeed Africa, with undiminished vigour.

For years to come, no doubt, great effort must be made by Nigeria to key into the roadmap of the IWAF with a clear plan of action.

It is heartwarming that the Ministry of Aviation has a roadmap as stated by the Minister, Hadi Sirika, in his speech at the Forum; one that as it were, foresaw and, in tandem with the ICAO Roadmap. Reflections and analysis of Hadi Sirika’s Roadmap vis-à-vis that of ICAO will no doubt be a topic of discourse for Stakeholders in the days ahead.

However, what, most probably, has escaped the consciousness of many a discerning Nigerian is the non-aviation impact of the IWAF on the country. Incidentally, this impact is by far more extensive and wider in ramification than the impact on the core aviation sector.

To understand this, it is necessary to remind ourselves that for close to a decade, no major global conference has held in Nigeria. This, for many reasons, including but not limited to; real and imaginary security challenges, poor or limited competence in facilitation as well as lack of excellent Conference management ability and of reasonably priced hotels.

These perceptions did not just constitute the image of Nigeria globally, but, bonded together and elevated to a very strong fixation that denied Nigeria any opportunity to host global conferences. It is true that over the years, quite a few international conferences, such as CHOGOM, ECOWAS, AU and African Aviation meets have been held in Nigeria.

All these are, however, regional or Association groupings and blocs. But global conferences which are normally associated with UN and its Agencies such UNESCO, UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, FAO, WHO, ICAO, to mention but a few, as well as World Bank, its Agencies and IATA have not held in Nigeria, all due largely, to the fixation cited earlier.

In Africa, these Conferences of global magnitude have always been held in the traditional cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, Arusha in Tanzania, Nairobi in Kenya, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Cairo in Egypt and Tunis in Tunisia. In the last five or so years, Accra in Ghana popped up and became the West African centre for global conferences with not-too-easily imaginable but high catalytic snowball impact on Ghana’s economy.

Although Nigeria had undertaken international investment drives, exhibitions and Road Shows outside the country’s shores with a view to attracting attention but their impacts were not visible. Good as these were, they were efforts too little to change the fixation. Rather, a frontal attack was required to dent and cause a peeling away of the outer crust of the fixation.

The attack would be deft, focused, collaborative and would require thinking out of the box. This was why when the Aviation Minister offered and agreed with ICAO to host its 3rd World Aviation Forum, a Conference that had never held outside its Montreal Headquarters, many thought that the Minister was either out of his mind, too imprudent or, outrightly audacious in his conviction and faith. Others believed that even if held, attendance would be poor and many would “rightly” keep away due fear of insecurity and safety.

Having convinced ICAO, whose President is Nigeria’s Dr. Bernard Aliu, of Nigeria’s readiness and ability to host the IWAF for the first time outside Montreal, the Minister, around July, 2017 put together various Committees, using industry and non-industry resource persons with collaboration of ICAO, to plan, drive and execute the hosting.

As is usual with such global conferences, programmes of relaxation are put in place as part of the package to showcase the host country. In South Africa, participants are usually taken to very exotic relaxation parks, in Arusha participants are taken to Mount Meru or Serengeti National Parks, in Nairobi participants are taken to Nairobi National Park; all game reserves.

In Cairo, it is either the Pyramids or a Dinner in a Sheraton Boat-Cruise along the Nile, while in Accra it is a visit to the Beach, historical monuments and touristic sites. Nigeria was not going to be left out as Hadi Sirika ingeniously took participants to a mini Polo and Durbar event and Golf game, a day before the commencement of the conference and capped it with a Gala Dinner performance on the 21st.

The conference proper, which was opened by the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, began on the 22nd. As at the opening, over 400 participants had registered and were in attendance. Only about 20 per cent of this number was Nigerians. Also, 140 member-states of the 190 ICAO member-states were in attendance, 50 Ministers from African, Asian and European countries were also in attendance.

Close to 10 international Organizations and Agencies with their headships fully participated. Some of these include, African Development Bank (AfDB), African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), International Air Transport Association (IATA), New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Airport Council International (ACI), Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Association (ICCAIA), Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) as well as European Union and UK Civil Aviation Authorities.

Added to these were over 12 exhibitors, which included all the aviation Parastatals – NCAA, FAAN, NAMA, NCAT, NIMET whose various publications were quite informative and image projecting. Also were our Domestic Operators – Med-View, Air Peace, Arik and Dana as well as two other international exhibitors from Europe apart from ICAO. Also there were over 25 Resource Persons, Presenters and Discussants.

In their Presentations at the formal Opening Ceremonies, the Vice-President, Professor Osinbajo and the Aviation Minister were in-depth in their projection of the positives of the administration, featuring the improvement on ease of doing business, the exit from recession and the unfolding new investment climate and the huge returns on investment in Nigeria.

At the closing ceremony of the conference, over 10 contributors who spoke from the floor, glowingly praised Nigeria for excellent hosting and acknowledged the smooth facilitation. One speaker said, “we thank Nigeria for this God gift to Africa and the world called Dr. Aliu whose policy and vision of ‘No country left behind’ has changed the face of air safety in many countries world over”.
The next invisible throw-up of the IWAF was the immediate economic benefits with its snowball and trickle-down impacts on businesses in the hotel, land and air transportation sectors, among others. For instance, as at the eve of the Forum, Transcorp Hilton, the venue of the conference had difficulties in finding rooms for its Diamond Card members. With room rate ranging between N120,000 and N200,000 per night in all its 670 rooms were fully occupied and participants had to seek accommodation in other hotels. Hotel taxis had busy days. Of cough; it is estimated that over US$700,000 must have flowed into the economy during the Forum.

Analysts believe that the benefits of hosting IWAF to the country by far outweigh, in all ramifications, the benefits of 20 international Roadshows and investment forums held overseas by Nigeria put together. And these were the actual lessons.

As a nation, we need to re-appraise our strategy in re-ordering perceptions of the international community of overselves as a people and a nation and on how to market our potentials and opportunities as a destination for foreign investments. One thing is clear and that is the fact that it is more beneficial and profitable to attract global conferences of the IWAF type than waste funds on staging international roadshows and investment drives. If before the IWAF, fears of insecurity was the deterrent, with IWAF, the leadership of Ministry of Aviation and its Parastatals as well as ICAO have put paid to this. To realize that the conference held without any deployment of policemen or blaring of siren all over the place is a lesson that should not be lost on us. Such would have engendered some fear of insecurity in the minds of delegates.

For those who doubted the reasonability of hosting the IWAF and similar conferences in Nigeria, they are now better assured. And for those who thought the Minister was audacious, they were correct because, quite frankly, hosting such a conference required sheer audacity, an audacity of faith; faith in our nation’s ability to do things global and excel, faith in our ability as a people to meet best global practices and standards. All these and more were present in hosting IWAF. In fact, IWAF can rightly be described as an act in “The Audacity of Faith”. We thus need to build on this lest the benefits become ephemeral and a sad loss.

Also, of no mean importance is the need for the nation’s aviation sector to key into the recommendations of the Forum by aligning its Roadmap and Policies with them. This will be the focus of our next reflections in the days ahead.

Aligbe (kandimuwa@gmail.com), a former spokesman of the defunct Nigeria Airways, is an aviation consultant.



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