By Chinelo Obogo
One of Nigeria’s non-scheduled airlines, Tropical Arctic Logistics (TAL), has alleged that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) colluded with NHV, a foreign company, to shut down its operations.
The chief executive officer of TAL, Emperor Baywood Ibe, told Daily Sun that he had evidence to prove that a staff of NCAA connived with NHV, a Danish operator, to ensure that its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) was not renewed. However, in a phone conversation with Daily Sun, the director-general of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu, strongly denied any wrongdoing by the agency, insisting that TAL did not meet the mandatory safety requirements necessary to get a renewal, but Mr. Ibe said, at the time the renewal process commenced, the airline had met all the requirements.
Nuhu also told Daily Sun that the reason TAL’s process was delayed was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pointed out that many airlines that also had their process delayed have either had an AOC extension or renewal because they met all the requirements. But TAL refutes this, alleging that the airline has been singled out due to the influence of NHV.
However, NHV, in a statement on its website, denied colluding with NCAA to frustrate TAL out of business, saying that it pulled out of the partnership because the airline did nt have an AOC with which to operate.
What led to the severing of the relationship between TAL and NHV?
NHV is a helicopter company operating in Europe and parts of Africa, including Nigeria through TAL. We had entered into a relationship with them but we later discovered that they were not straight with us and we had to write to the security operatives in Nigeria telling them what we noticed. We wrote to the Department of Security Services, telling them that one of the reasons we decided to pull out of NHV (partnership) was that they were getting involved in some security issues in Nigeria. We noticed this because they shipped some containers to us and, one year after, those containers were still with the Customs because they found some suspicious items, which were not declared, and that was why they were not released up till today. Customs asked for end user certificate and they could not produce it. They claimed that the items were helium tanks but we are not sure.
Lately, we found out that they were carrying out some clandestine activities and we were not part of it, so they moved over to another hangar. I can tell you that they were aided by NCAA and that was why NHV told us clearly that, if we pulled out of the partnership, they would tell NCAA not to issue us an AOC. They communicated this to our lawyer. So, we believe that the agency is working with them, especially with the general manager in charge of surveillance, Godwin Balang. I know this for a fact because they made a very clear statement that they would make sure that NCAA does not issue us AOC, and that is what is happening.
At the time you said you applied for the extension, had you started having issues with NHV?
We had started having issues because we were no longer willing to work with them and, because of that, they had to move their aircraft to another hangar. We have it on record that NHV was having a conversation with the agency. The GM of surveillance had initially recommended a certified third party auditor to be our safety manager and he told us that, if we brought the auditor to our company, the AOC issues would be resolved. We hired the safety manager he recommended, yet, one year later, the same Balang still frustrated the man out of business.
Everyone working with him is hiding under the cloak of safety, it is not safety. It is only when they want to kill Nigerian companies that they play the safety card. For crying out loud, Balang said, if we want the issues resolved, we should employ this man. We employed the man to head our quality control department and he followed through, until the last moment. Before he joined us, this internationally-certified third party auditor carried out a safety audit as an independent auditor on the hangar where the helicopters were moved and they failed the audit, yet NCAA qualified that hangar to service aircraft. When Balang wanted to bury his father-in-law, he came to my house and I assisted him with $10,000, yet he turned around to frustrate me out of business.
How many of your manuals were approved and how many were rejected? What reasons did NCAA give for not approving them?
We did the first, second and third stages but every time we submitted the manuals, they either got missing or they were returned. When we went there, they would tell us that they could not find the manuals we submitted. This dragged on and, finally, we had two manuals left with Balang; but we believe he is working behind us with this company with the support from one Mr. Eduardo Ramos who used to be with us. So, the two manuals we have left to be approved have been on the desk of Mr. Balang. What interest does he have? We believe he is working with NHV against TAL and that is why we couldn’t get our AOC.
What were the specific reasons NCAA told you that the renewal would not be granted?
Before our safety manager joined the company, our chief operating officer traveled to the United States, so Balang used that against us, saying our COO was not here, therefore, our request would not be granted. But before our COO travelled, he wrote a letter to NCAA telling them that our safety manager would follow through. Like I said earlier, if NCAA wants to find fault with you, no matter what you do, they would always find a fault. The last thing he was holding onto was post holders. But we had our post holders when we started the procedure. When the renewal was being delayed, some of them began to resign. Any of our post holders that goes, we make serious efforts to replace the person but they began to bandy our names everywhere. Imagine that NCAA staff were asking my staff if they were being paid salaries. What is their business? What is their grouse with us?
Many people have written a lot of petitions to the authorities asking them to shut down a company that we suspect is in alliance with NCAA, yet nothing has been done to the company. We have copies of such petitions and even when the company failed safety audit from a third-party auditor, NCAA still approved them. This can be investigated.
Are the containers your former partner brought into Nigeria still with the Customs?
Yes, they are still there because they didn’t declare the contents. We told them to ensure that they declared the contents of the containers but they didn’t, until they went to Customs. We can’t ascertain what was in the containers but the main issue is that they didn’t declare it in the forms, so the containers were seized by Customs. Whether they didn’t declare it intentionally or it was an oversight, I can’t say.
The main question here is, why was our AOC renewal denied? It was denied because NCAA is out to frustrate Nigerian companies. There is a correlation between the time when our AOC was denied and the threats made by NHV against us. We had competent hands to qualify us for a renewal. The process of getting an AOC is more rigourous than a renewal. We went through the more rigorous process even when we didn’t have the full setup that we have today, yet we were issued with our AOC. I don’t expect that, one year after operating for two years as an AOC holder, we would be going through this same process, which has culminated in a refusal. Because of that, we have shut down; so, the NCAA has killed a Nigerian company. We are already down, so we don’t fear any fall. I am ready to petition the National Assembly and the Presidency because the ease of doing business has been truncated.
I also discovered that NCAA sells people’s business ideas. When I told Balang about my plans for a commercial airline and a man came from the United Kingdom and I gave him my business plan. I remember that Balang told me that we haven’t had anyone trying to bring the type of aircraft I was proposing into Nigeria. Months later, a company came in with the exact type of aircraft I proposed. NCAA should stop asking people to submit their business plan, the profile of any company is enough. If you submit your business plan, you never can tell how far they can go. I am of the conviction that the business plan I submitted was sold and we are going to take it up legally with the man that we gave it to through Balang. I have told my lawyer to write to them formally to return my business plan but I just want to have it on record.
Is there any possibility that this issue can be amicably resolved?
We have already shut and have written to NCAA to tell them that they have frustrated us out of business. We can’t continue with this anymore. My investment of over $7 million dollars has gone down the drain. This is why when new airlines come up, one or two years down the line, you don’t see them any longer, they blame it on mismanagement, but this is not true. They deliberately go out of their way to kill Nigerian companies and none of them is speaking out but, today, I have decided to speak out. I don’t care what it will cost me. That is why I said the DG of NCAA should convene a meeting of CEOs of airline operators to discuss and find ways of cleaning the mess in the agency. There are many airlines coming up, let us see what happens in the next two to three years, whether they will still be in existence.