Red Alert! Benin Airport Is Next Death Trap

Magazine cover 26Magazine cover 26The airport at Benin, capital city of Edo State has been described as a death trap waiting to snare flights either landing or taking off the airport. Two incidences of near misses last week gave credence to the troubling prospect of the next airport that may become the epi-centre of bad news in the aviation sector.

Not a few passengers on an Aero Contractor’s scheduled first flight to Benin from Lagos this past Monday, 20 July 2009 suffered a shake down resulting from a massive pump of adrenalin as the pilot of the airline reportedly made two unsuccessful but near fatal efforts to land on the runway of the Benin Airport. The pilot had to return to Lagos after the second attempt.

“We arrived at the vicinity of the Benin Airport without any incident, and we were actually in descent to the runway for final landing when suddenly all passengers, and apparently, the pilot saw that we were far away from the airport runway. What suddenly jumped at house from the ground was a mix of green field and trees while the airplane speed was at full throttle,” said a passenger who shared his experience with Fortune&Class Weekly.

“The pilot had to quickly revert position by taking off. He announced through the cockpit’s address system that he had to abort landing procedure because of poor visibility caused by low hanging cloud. He then informed us that he would make a second try, the passenger added.

However, according to the passenger, the second landing effort turned out scarier than the first.

“That second attempt threw every passenger aboard into panic; again, the pilot had to abort the landing and announced that he had to make a turn back to Lagos because of the bad weather. I must confess that when we heard the pilot’s voice on the address system, the voice was much shaken. In fact, we were made to understand that the experience got under the skin of the pilot that he had to surrender the control of the flight back to Lagos to his co-pilot, a female,” the passenger said.

Meanwhile, another reported that as the Aero Contractor airplane, a Boeing 737-500, headed back to Lagos, two Arik airplanes, one from Abuja and the other from Lagos successfully landed at the Benin Airport and this roused a heated debate among passengers on the flight on the possible reason for the successful landing of the two Arik Air planes while Aero Contractor had to abort landing.

Aviation experts we spoke with, however, explained that the Arik Air planes were of smaller carrying capacity which allows them to manoeuvre for landing better than the Aero Contractor’s Boeing 737-500.

Another expert, however, submitted that the lack of appropriate instrument landing system at the airport has made the airport a potential death-trap. The expert argued that the Aero Contractor’s plane made those near disastrous landings because it was not properly directed from the control towers, “and that is because the airport doesn’t have reliable landing instrument to guide the effort of the pilot. I hope the authorities will quickly address this shortcoming before something disastrous happens,” the expert said.

Between Aero-Contractors and FAAN The Rigmarole

This report as submitted by Jonah Etufunwa

It was clear to us that Aero-Contractors must have knowledge of what happened that fateful Monday morning when the passengers had their hearts in their mouths as their aircraft’s attempts to land twice at Benin Airport were aborted. Even the pilot, a male, who became faint-hearted, we learnt, had to be assisted by the co-pilot, a woman, back to Lagos.

Getting to their office at the local airport, Ikeja, we were jolted by the evasive attitudes of officers there.

We wanted to speak with the public affairs manager, but the receptionist told us that the person to talk to us was the commercial manager, who was not in the office then, so his secretary after hearing the story from us, told us to hold on. We waited for more than 40 minutes and later discovered that for more than additional 15 minutes her lines rang without her response as the receptionist tried to remind her that we were still waiting.

The woman who asked us to hang on had disappeared. We could understand her situation; she was not authorized to speak on such matters to the press, but she could have treated us in a much better way. One thing was obvious at Aero-Contractors, a public affairs manager is not on their payroll.

Before leaving we reminded the receptionist that we did not want to report our story without confirmation, but that they were making things difficult for us.

Our investigation took us to NAMA and we were told by a source at their public affairs department that Aero-Contractors’ difficulty with landing could be associated with the aircraft’s malfunctioning or the pilot’s error. “As far as we had given them the right to land, missing the run-way twice is between Aero and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN). FAAN is the landlord, it provides landing equipment.”

An official of NAMA who would not want his name in print, however, noted that if there was a fog or cloud, it is not advisable to land. “If you are driving, and it begins to rain, visibility can be maximally reduced, that does not mean the road is not good; and at such a situation one may even park for a short while,” the official reasoned with us.

We asked if nothing could have been done to aid visibility in the inclement weather. He said the landing lights are supposed to be on. “Could the light have been off due to one reason or the other,” we further asked. He said that NAMA manages Nigeria’s airspace and they are responsible for airborne aircraft from zero to 5,000 feet and to make sure that their equipment are always functioning to make communication possible with all aircraft landing or taking off, “NAMA maintains powerful generating sets every time. FAAN does same,’ he said.

The following day, last Friday, we were at the office of the General Manager, Public Affairs, Akin Olukunle. After listening to our story of the averted tragedy, he said he was just hearing that for the first time, that he would commence investigation immediately and would get back to us. We knew he would like to also get firsthand information from the Aero-Contractors’ management. We therefore decided to return to Aero-Contractors office. The receptionist knowing we were there the previous day, called the commercial manager’s office. The secretary, (not the one that spoke with us the day before, Thursday) in the absence of her boss, directed the receptionist to a captain, who definitely we thought would solve our problems, but unfortunately when we were asked to speak with someone on phone, we ended up talking with the secretary.

What we got from this secretary was an anti-climax. She blurted: “Go to Control Tower.”

“Where is the Control Tower,” we asked.

The secretary further shocked us, saying, “You say you are a reporter and you don’t know Control Tower? Go to FAAN.”

“Why are you getting angry?” we asked her and she never replied. We did not have to go to FAAN because the air-lord of Nigerian airports, the controllers of the Control Tower, is NAMA, not FAAN and we had already spoken with FAAN’s GM, Public Affairs.

To expedite action, our reporter sent a text message to FAAN’s GM thus: “Pls, assist me with d investigatn of what happened to Aero-Contractors’ aircraft on Monday morning @ Benin. My editor is waiting for the story 2day. When u’v found out, flash me n I’ll call u. Tanx.”

Until Saturday morning before going to the press, we did not hear from the FAAN’s GM.

The Call To Upgrade Instrument Landing System

An Aeronautical Scientist, Mr. Dauda Ajeye Nuhu, had in a presentation argued for the upgrade of certain major airports in Nigeria to the optimum category (CATIIIB) for Instrument Landing System (ILS) approaches.

Dauda writes: “ILS approach is that which allow the automatic pilot land the aircraft in poor visibility without the human pilot’s manual input on the yoke during aircraft landing at airport runway. It is true to say that not every airport in the developed world has Category Three B (CATIIIB) autopilot approach ILS installed on all, but most of the busy airports are. This goes to say that at least certain airports in Nigeria can get these systems installed and certified, especially for International airports and the busiest local airports that run relatively active local flights on day to day basis.

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SUNDAY AKINTOLA: HOW MUSHIN HOME BOY GREW MULTI-MILLION NAIRA BUSINESSES IN MUSHIN, LAGOS

SUNDAY AKINTOLA is specially proud of beating all the odds as a home boy growing up in the densely populated Mushin area of Lagos State to become a successful owner of business chains that span micro finance and telecommunications. In this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE, and TAI ADEWALE SHOFELA, Chairman of Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, AKINTOLA shares his journey to conquering the litany of challenges that littered his path to business success.

How would you describe yourself?

Yes, by His grace, I am Sunday Akintola, a gentleman who happens to be one of the lucky entrepreneurs whose company is positively impacting on Nigeria in the area of poverty alleviation. I am the Chairman of the Board of three companies; Covenant Perazim Investment Limited, a multi-facetted company established to operate in the Oil, Gas and Agriculture sectors, Sufi Enterprises Limited, which is a company involved in the sale and distribution of GSM companies recharge cards, and Sovereign Micro-Finance Bank. I am a graduate of Accounting from the University of Lagos. I am also an ex-banker having worked with one of Nigeria’s fastest growing banks Zenith Bank Plc.

Briefly, can you tell us the background to how you grew this multi million naira business empire?

Most big businesses always start in small ways. This multi-million business concern, like you rightly said, is a business that was registered first as Covenant Perazim Investment Limited in November, 2003 while I was still in service with Zenith Bank. It was then the thought occurred to me on what I could do to change my life and touch the lives of other people around me. I thereafter initiated the venture, but we started operation with four staff which included my wife and my brother in-law in a shop here in Mushin from where we sold telecoms recharge cards.

I resigned from my banking job six months after we commenced operations, to be precise, July 1, 2004, two days after securing the NCC dealership licence. In fact, I got my licence on a Sunday and I put in my resignation the following Tuesday, and by August, 2004, I was already able to raise the mandatory N5 million to join the recharge card dealership community of the then V-Mobile Network with Sufi Enterprises Ltd.

All these while, my colleagues, some in the banking halls and some from other companies like Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and other multi-nationals, were greatly disturbed about my decision to go into business; they asked if something was wrong with me and how could I leave certainty for uncertainty; leaving the bank to go and sell recharge card. For them, it sounded absurd. But I told them I wanted to go and develop my business.

Things started to crystallize for us because all we were doing then was to get some money to buy and sell recharge cards until we had our breakthrough when in 2006 the V-Mobile Network started seeing us as a serious business entity, and in 2007, we won the best dealers award of the V-Mobile Network. That same 2007, we were among the 25 dealers selected in Lagos and promoted to the status of big dealers. However, as part of the requirements of that new status back then, we were also expected to have our own building as office complex. On the back of this, we decided to build our own building. Thankfully, by the end of 2007 we were able to build our own office complex.

Personally, how had your background influenced the development of your business?

I am a proper Mushin boy, born and bred in this community where people have the notion that nothing good can come out of the community. While we were in the secondary school, those of us from Mushin were seen as boys from homes of hooligans and thugs but to God be the glory, we came out very disciplined, because I am fortunate to have very responsible parents who gave us good up bringing.

Can you believe that as far back as 1963, my Dad refused all discouragement from others not to send my elder sister to school; he sent her to the only private boarding school then in Abeokuta, the Baptist Private School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. People were laughing at our parents for sending my sister to the boarding school. Ironically, I had to attend a public school, Odo Abore Primary School in Mushin. I guess my brilliance then impressed the school management such that they made me the school’s senior prefect.

After finishing at Odo Abore, my parents preferred that I schooled out of Lagos State, they rejected my preference for the Nigerian Model College at Idi-Oro, a suburb of Mushin. They sent me to Baptist High School, Saki, in Oyo State. From Saki I proceed to the Lagos State College of Education, and later, to the University of Lagos where I studied Accounting. I also taught in a primary school for two years before I joined Zenith Bank in 1993 where I spent 11 years before quitting in 2004.

Though my parents were not rich, I remember that they always struggled to pay our school fees then. They thought us about God and, my mother, especially, taught us the principle of prudence and wealth creation. All these contributed to my success today, but the secret to my business success is God. There is nothing we do in this office that we don’t ask for God’s favour, He is our Alpha and Omega. In this office there is nothing we do that we don’t tell God; we pray in the morning and we pray to close each of our day’s operations.

As a major player in the telecoms recharge card distribution and marketing sub sector, how would you describe the industry?

Yes, the industry is full of illiterate and semi illiterate people, but with the new policies from all the companies, I expect that the situation will finally change. I believe that there will be a lot of changes because it is only in the telecoms sector that some illiterate people will buy something at the rate of N400 and sell it for N250, that is about 80 per cent less than the cost price. But now, the business is getting more exciting, interesting, and rewarding than what it used to be.

What prompted your interest in establishing a microfinance bank, which is seen as very risky commercial engagements, or do we reason that you preferred this because of your banking background?

It wasn’t my background in banking that inspired me to establish Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, rather, it was due to my interaction with the people at the grass-roots of my immediate community here in Mushin while I was operating the telecoms business. The economic plight of these people rekindled my interest in empowering the people in my immediate community. You know when we were doing the telecoms business a lot of people always came to us for financial aids in form of soft loans, but there was no way we could be able to solve all these needs, so we now saw the opportunity to serve and empower our people when the CBN came out with the guideline and licensing procedures for establishing micro finance bank, that was the vision.

Again, there was this experience I once had while I was trying to establish a friend in the recharge card business in Abeokuta. I then realized that what most people need is micro-credit, soft loan, when you don’t help people within your neighborhood they will be the same set of people that will make life difficult for you. Do you know some of those my friends who thought something was wrong with me when I left Zenith Bank today are now begging us to be part of what we are doing. But we shall adopt them provided CBN reviews its policy on the board membership; we are also looking for a way to involve them through our forthcoming private placement.

Don’t you think it is easy for Nigerians to abuse the concept of micro finance banking just like the earlier banking and finances houses of the past?

The establishment of microfinance banks and transformation of community banks is a thought in the right direction by the government, it shows the government knows what the needs of the people are; forget about the bastardization of the earlier finance houses, I can tell you the impact of the micro finance bank vision is already showing on our economy. As I am talking to you now, we are highly regulated, every MFB has a CBN supervisor attached to it and every bank is mandated to do a monthly return to CBN. They will trace and check all the loans you disbursed that month, so there is no way you can give all the loans to your family like in the era of finance houses and commercial banks of the past.

You can log on to the CBN’s website and check the full list of the MFBs as they are arranged alphabetically, this is also part of the effort to showcase them (micro finance banks) and for you to know the ones you can deal with, I can assure you there is no MFB that will like to go under because there are lots of opportunities in the micro financing business

Of all the MFBs in Lagos what do you think stands your Sovereign Micro Finance Bank out from the rest?

We believe so much in God, and this is the anchor of our own business philosophy… to be the fulcrum of creating financial independence for the people. You see, all these area boys, some of them have great talents but what they mainly want is financial empowerment. One of them approached us about three months ago that he wanted to have his own bus and I told him to go and start saving, that if he can save N50,000 out of the N450,000 he needed to buy a Faragon Volkswagen Bus, we will fund it.

He jumped at the offer and each day, he deposited N1500 with us out of the N3000 of his daily income from the transport business. We also work with other professional groups on how to empower their members. All these are parts of the ways to eliminate criminality from their minds because if someone has a wife and kids and a job, his approach to life will be different. He will not be thinking that he wants to die because he already knows he has a stake in this world.

What gave you the impression that Mushin people deserve another micro finance bank despite all the commercial bank branches that populate the roads?

I don’t think there is any other community that I will want to serve than the Mushin community; these are the people that deserve to be uplifted and empowered financially. It is the rural people who need micro-credit or micro-funding; our vision in Sovereign MFB is to empower all these so called area boys, and since I grew up in this area, I understand the economic philosophy and psychology of the people.

We’ve already started some collaboration with the professional groups’ trade and artisan associations on how to serve them better, and even the National Union of Road Transport Workers [NURTW]. We hope to set them up with financial backing of our bank.

Our operations here as telecoms recharge distributor had opened our eyes to many needs of the people. We are now able to understand the need of the people of this area, ask anybody here around Mushin, if they know Sufi Enterprises Limited, they’ll tell you that they know us very well, it is the goodwill we’ve created over time that is rubbing on the bank.

I have also realized that commercial banks are too big to recognize micro financing opportunities, they will not fund or support your business when you are small, it is always the big projects of billions and millions of big establishments that they will always be interested in funding while the man whose business need just N5, 000 to survive is left to wallow in abject poverty.

Which was the riskiest investment venture you had made?

The biggest investment risk I ever took was the outright sale of my entire investment portfolio when I couldn’t secure a loan to finance this MFB project. A friend at FirstBank just told me point blank that since my office complex didn’t have a certificate of occupancy, no bank will give me a loan and the best, he advised I did, was to liquidate my stock portfolio. That was how I sold all my stocks just as if I was been pushed by a spirit but to God be the glory, I was lucky enough to escape the stock market crash now being witnessed by investors. Up till today, my stockbroker still enquire from me how I was able to escape the downturn in the market.

There is no business that doesn’t have its own ups and downs, tell us the challenges being faced by operators of microfinance banks in Nigeria?

Our major challenge is commercial banks, they are becoming jealous of our achievements, which is why you see a lot of the country’s mega banks transforming into micro banks. They see us as threats, because they know we can go for clearing by statutory order and with this the commercial banks always stalemated us. At present, we have a serious battle with a commercial bank over a facility of N110million we got from a company which the company, the bank and us decided was supposed to be given to us but when the money was ready, they sat on it, denied us access to it because of our capital base. We need more money to service the micro needs of our people. What we devised now is that we have contacted about three to four banks for our clearing, one is in charge of the financing of Okada scheme, one for the NURTW scheme, while we also get another to manage our other schemes because it would be too risky to keep all our good eggs in one basket.

We are currently working with a commercial bank to provide us with an ATM which will soon be installed to serve the people of Mushin. We are going to table most of these problems before the Central Bank Governor at the next conference of MFBs in Nigeria. Maybe the Governor can help us caution the commercial banks.

Another major challenge we are facing, like every other business in Nigeria, is the problem of power supply. Large amount of our money goes to fuelling of generating sets, and mind you, we bought our own transformer at about N1.8million while our 100 KVA generator costs a whopping N2.9million and this we fuel with N8, 000 daily. If we plough these back into our business do you know the number of people that will benefit from our micro finance bank? The issue of multiple taxation, too, is another serious challenge to business in Lagos.

As an entrepreneur what will you say is your greatest achievement?

What I personally see as our achievement may not be too fantastic to you but for a company that started in a small shop five years ago on this street, selling recharge cards, now owns an edifice housing the headquarters of all our businesses which include banking, aquaculture, oil and gas, and telecoms; all these we can boast is valued to be above N100million.

We have about 60 well remunerated staff, with at least over eight brand new Toyota cars for our staff, and in the next three months, we are going to take delivery of another set of five new Toyota cars for our middle cadre officers. Some of our staffers who were employed some years ago with school certificates are now graduates while some are about completing their choice of courses in various higher institutions. While studying, we make sure they don’t lack anything. None of our staff has been involved in stealing and none had left us. We are still one united family five years after we started. Last December, we harvested our fish pond and the return from the investment yielded about N1.5miilion because it is safer to diversify to other businesses to expand our capital base and income sources.

What is your management style?

I am a hard working person, and all my staff members know this. I am always the first person to resume here and the last person to leave. Can you believe I live in Alagbado, yet I’m always very punctual at the office? You’ll see me resume here by 7.30a.m. everyday, I mentor my staff, they’ve all imbibed discipline from me. You know, I operate an open door policy here, all my staff are well remunerated. If a CEO is not disciplined, the staff will not be disciplined. Again, let me tell you that yesterday (Friday, 9 January) I was with one of my colleagues way back at Zenith Bank and he was reminding me how disciplined we were then while employed at Zenith Bank. He said it was I who once said that I dreamt that one day I would have my own bank, but we all did not believe it then because of the situation surrounding the licensing of commercial banks. But today, both of us are owners of full fledged micro finance banks; he owns Olive Microfinace Bank on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, while my own is Sovereign Microfinance Bank, Mushin, Lagos. What we thought was impossible is now a reality in our lives. God has done it, it is easy now to grow a micro-finance bank into a commercial bank and that is our future because in the nearest future we hope to go public.

Shock Treatment At Oceanic Bank ATM

It was not a palatable experience for customers of Oceanic Bank, Toyin Street, Ikeja branch, in December when the bank’s automated teller machine (ATM) decided to give customers the ‘shock treatment’ as yuletide gift.

Of course, many customers had to stylishly and sensibly retrieve their cards to avoid possible electrocution.

However, we are glad to inform all concerned that the technical fault that led to that shocking experience has since been rectified.

But really, what could cause such? It then advisable to wait for the green light from the security-person before attempting using one.

IN THE SQUALOR OF THE RULE OF SILENCE

Last week, I confirmed an appointment to meet with a United States of America based journalist and researcher. He told me on phone that he was in Nigeria to research and evaluate the country’s financial sector with a view to submitting a report that will form the basis of Nigeria’s financial sector country report to his principal, a respected magazine in the US.

My talking date was scheduled with the foreign journalist on account of the content of FORTUNE&CLASS Weekly. He had excitedly talked about the magazine serving most of his information needs on the subject of his research and investigation in Nigeria, contents he could not get to see in other media class. Of course, I was humbled and though, I was in quandary on what exactly I was going to tell a foreign journalist on a mission to unearth hidden facts in the remote crevices of the nation’s banking halls and regulatory agencies.

I was caught between my intense patriotism for everything that can be possibly good about this country and knowing that an interview session with a journalist also means that I may fall into those emotive moments that a subject of an interview unconsciously fall into with the consequence of, perhaps, revealing some of those facts that won’t do the sector at issue good in international circles. Of course, I am a journalist, so I know how these things work, before you corrected yourself you would have crossed the boundary with some blabbing, remarkable to the journalist but embarrassing for me.

I may have to apologise on behalf of the media in Nigeria, it is a culture, you know; media practitioners, even around the world censor information, often, because of the practical standard of minimizing the extent of perception damage to an institution or sector.

The talking date didn’t happen after all, though we shifted the appointment twice, we could not get to meet. It suddenly turned out that the journalist’s temporary residence on Victoria Island, Lagos, was a travelling distance to my office in Ikeja, Lagos. The poor journalist made frantic efforts to get to Ikeja two times but he was not quite knowledgeable about the hours of convenient movement in the state. He always ended up in a traffic gridlock, and the two times he was compelled to ask his cab driver to turn back at the next access road; incidentally, such an access road won’t be available until he gets to the Gbagada end of the 3rd Mainland Bridge where he’s also confronted with a non-moving lines of vehicles.

Well, as it were, I guess the Lagos traffic logjam helped out of a dilemma for the first time. Courtesies won’t allow me to reject an interview appointment with a colleague practitioner but, I was quite apprehensive that some information may not be right for this kind of discussion. So naturally, I was not going to encourage the journalist to get to Ikeja, and I refused to offer the option of locating him on the Island.

The kernel of my revelation here is that most of us have become co-conspirators in the some what cultic ways of information dispensation. The Mafian rule of absolute silence dominates information processing and dissemination; I ascertained the journalist must have been convinced he was not getting the quality of information he needed from official quarters, the reason he resorted to self help.

In self respecting countries, information is key, either in political governance or corporate relationship. To get required information that are in the public domain, all one needed do was to go on dedicated website or get a journal of the government agency or company you wanted to know its details. It’s that simple.

This tells much on the integrity of information, where information is treated as a prized jewel to be hidden in the bunkers of atomic bomb as it is the culture in Nigeria, concerned communities of the agency or company treat such information with a strong dose of suspicion. This has become so endemic that routine statistical information from the office of statistics is addressed with nonchalance in the public place. Bank statements of account, a document that is supposed to be sacrosanct in facts and details, are for Nigerians, another fanciful fictional paper work conveyed to the public in consummation of lip service to the satisfaction of a legal requirement that has lost all its potency of sanction many years ago.

Disclosure in governance and corporate relationship is essential to confidence building and until the breach of this is punishable not by the letters of laws but by political will, the nation would continue to flourish in the appalling cesspit of wheeler-dealing, creating a continuous circle of privileged insiders and ignorant outsiders.

Can the parliament take another look at the Freedom of Information Bill, please.