Capt. Mohammed Abdulsalami is the Rector and Chief Executive of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Kaduna State, a one stop shop for aviation studies in Nigeria and West Africa. In an exclusive interview with Daisy Barro in his office, he threw more light on the college’s recent achievements, activities, challenges and vision.
Q. First of all, congratulations on your recent approval by the National Board for Technical Education on the award of ND, HND and PGD on some aviation courses that are taught at the college. How are you getting this message out to the public, and how do you hope to generate and sustain public interest?
You know, the college has always been involved in this training since inception, where we train aircraft maintenance engineers and on graduation, they are issued with a local diploma of the college plus a license which is issued by the NCAA. But the local diploma is not recognized everywhere; it is not of the same status as the National Diploma. That was why we now embarked on the process of getting NBTE accreditation, so it goes through the normal process whereby our graduates of such programs can be registered for NYSC, and they get properly accredited diplomas that are accepted all over the world. Even students who graduated from this college years back have shown a lot of interest in this, and even next week we are having a course that is tailored towards getting this certified engineers to be able to take the opportunity this provides. As you know, it was well publicized in the media. We’ve placed adverts in the three National Dailies, and it is permanently on our website. And we also have an outreach team that goes around from time to time to educate people on the courses available in the college, and we also use the airwaves as well; some of the F.M radio stations. Anytime we have graduation, we invite people. This year we introduced an open day for the college. We introduced that in May on Children’s Day; May 27th. We had an Open Day where all the training activities of the college were publicized and we intend to make that an annual event. So we seized that opportunity to keep the public informed on the courses that are available here.
Q. The College recently acquired a fire simulator. Has the college taken delivery and how do you plan on utilizing it for the benefit of not only Nigerians but the entire region?
We have not taken delivery yet. We went to do factory acceptance of the simulator in the U.K in April with the then Minister of State Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, and after the full test, it has been dismantled and crated, and it is presently on its way to Nigeria. We delayed the process because the civil works at the site that will house the simulator were still ongoing. When you have the chance, they can take you around and you’ll see where the project is ongoing. The classrooms and other facilities have been completed but the structure that will support the simulator, the civil works that is still ongoing, we hope that will be completed by the time the simulator arrives, and we hope that the simulator will be commissioned by the end of the year. As you know FAAN alone has over a thousand firemen and women. And so all of them will be using that simulator; and so that means we have guaranteed one thousand students. We also have the Bayelsa airport; all the private airports have indicated interest, because as you might know, this is the first time such a simulator is being installed in Nigeria. So up until now, all our firemen have been going to Cameroon to go and train. So they have all indicated interest; it’s cheaper and faster for them to train in Zaria than to go to Cameroon, and what we are offering is far better; it is more superior to what they have in Cameroon. This simulator is capable of simulating thirty different training scenarios.
Q. Helicopter operations are proving to be increasingly important in the sector. This may have led to the college acquiring helicopters. What difference has this made in the training of professionals in this regard?
The college acquired helicopters for training some years back, but the project was supposed to be acquisition of primary trainers for basic training, and then the advanced ones. But for some reason at the time, they decided to purchase the advanced trainers before the basic trainers. So because of that, the college has not been able to make use of them. You cannot train ab initio people with advanced equipment. So we are trying to find a way of utilizing the helicopters in other ways, pending the time when sufficient provision is made for us to buy the basic trainers.
Q. Many of our youths are unaware of the career opportunities in the sector. How is the college reaching out to young Nigerians at the grassroots in order to create the required level of awareness about all the good work that is being done here?
As you are aware, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has a program called NGAP; that is, Next Generation of Aviation Professionals. This program is the brainchild of ICAO when they realized that there’s going to be a huge gap in the manpower of the aviation industry based on aircraft orders alone. So, they embarked on this program to generate interest among the youths to pursue careers in aviation. This college fully subscribes to this program. We’ve been attending all the conferences. I personally attended the last one which was held in China last December. We also have a local team that specifically works on this NGAP program, and as a matter of fact they were involved in that Open Day that we had in May this year. So they go out, we even have teams that go out to schools to sensitize students. They don’t restrict themselves to local schools; we’ve been reaching out to various states. My team recently came back from as far away as Akwa Ibom and Lagos. So we have this NGAP program that we’re using to try and sensitize the youth. In addition you know, this college is known for its technical field of aviation, but we realized there are a lot of youths that are out of jobs. So we decided to introduce programs that are not aviation related, but can assist the youths in acquiring skills. So there are skills acquisition programs. We have for instance, a program that is starting next week, and it’s to teach people how to maintain diesel engine generators. We also have a program where we train people on refrigeration and air conditioning as well as solar power. So these are all programs that are targeted at youths.
Q. Since you became rector of the college, what will you consider as your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is funding. You know this college is government owned, and so we are supported by government. A lot of our financial requirements are met by government. So we have to go through the process of budgeting, appropriation by the national assembly, and you know we have delays in getting the budget approved, and even when the budget is approved what is appropriated is not really what is released. So because of that it takes us longer to execute projects that we want to execute, even when provision is made and funds are approved. This is not a problem that is affecting NCAT alone; it’s common across all the government agencies.
Q. As the principal officer, the head of this college, what’s your vision for the college and how do you hope to achieve it?
Well, as you know, this college is now an ICAO Regional Training Center of Excellence. So our vision actually, as you can see there is, “To maintain the prestigious position of the foremost aviation training institution in Africa, and be among the best in the world.” So right now we’re the best in the region, and we want to be the best in the world. It’s a huge task, but we have started on a good footing. We are doing well currently. This college is one of its kind in the world in that we provide training for every sector of aviation; from training of pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers, technicians, cabin crew, flight dispatchers, and now we’re going to train firemen. So it’s a one stop shop for all the training in aviation, whereas in most other training organizations they pick certain areas. Like in East Africa the flying school is in Uganda whereas they train air traffic controllers in Kenya, and then they have another part of the school in Tanzania. Additionally, this college is one of the few training institutions in Africa with a dedicated airfield. We have our own airfield; so we don’t suffer from undue disruptions and delays. When you share an airport with commercial aircraft and there’s a commercial flight, they’ll tell the training flight not to go or to stay away. We don’t suffer from that, so it gives us a better opportunity for greater utilization of our resources.