In this interview with The Travel Port, Professor Bako Matazu, Director General, Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMET), speaks about the challenges he met when he took over the helms of affairs of the Agency, how his solution has worked and repositioned it for greater efficiency.
I came onboard in April this year and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) being a service provider especially in the aviation industry and also a weather and climate service provider in the general socio-economical arena of the country is faced with several challenges. Basically, the major challenge I encountered immediately on arrival at NiMET was the issue of vandalisation of our airport safety equipment across the country.
In order to reduce the risk of negative weather phenomenon like low level windshear system and other possible moving weather system, NiMET installed negative instrument, which are very sensitive and capital intensive like Doppler radar system, Runway Visual Range (RVR) across all our 24 airports and specifically for the four major airports, we have independent weather forecast offices.
Some of these instruments have sensors installed in them, even at airports that have perimeter fences, we have very serious challenges of vandalisation and I will give an example of this. Low Level Windshear Alert System (LLWAS) has eight sensors, if more than three are down, it will not give a clear picture of the windshear and this is a major hazard to aircraft either landing or taking off.
But, we came up with a model of integrating communities around in securing some of these installations and I can tell you since I came onboard, I instituted a task team on airport operations and parts of the task team, we have our safety officers who now engage the neighbouring hosting communities, involving them in securing the equipment. We provide them with some incentives and welfare to communities to help us to do that.
On the other hand, we came up with an alternative method of monitoring and forecasting these windshear without using a sensor, rather we use a Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) system. Since I came onboard, we have spent a lot of money in upgrading our Numerical Weather Prediction Department with the assistance of Weather Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and out of these, we have what is called Satellite Milecasting Facility and this milecasting is giving us a diagnostic analysis any cloud over Nigeria and we believe we can detect also the possibility of potential of any airport of being affected by windshear.
So, we are complementing these two and it is giving us a very clear result. In the first phase, we are earmarking 10 airports and out of the 10 airports, three have been addressed now and we are doing the other two in the next two weeks. We intend to cover the 10 airports before the end of the year and by the first quarter of next year, we are going to address the remaining airports.
We are very hopeful that by June of 2022, we want operations at our airports to be more than 95 per cent optimum and we are very confident that the aviation community is very happy with our performance and based on this, our aero meteorological service, we have met the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 9001 2015. We are the first meteorological service in Africa to achieve this and because of this feat; World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) is recruiting NiMET to assist other African countries to move forward. Presently, we have the Gambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
Based on this technical assistantship, we are providing other weather forecasting services to Liberia and Sierra Leone and that is the WMO voluntary partnership. This is at no cost to the two countries, but it is due to the goodwill of Nigeria. It shows that NiMET is transforming from the initial weather service to the advance and now, we are getting more relevant in Africa.
Also, due to the recent WMO assessment, they categorised NiMET as the best meteorological service on the continent. This is a plus for our government, especially our Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika for his excellent leadership and the additional support we are getting from the ministry and the policy direction towards providing the service.
Is NiMET looking at commercialising some of the services to sectors like maritime, agriculture and others?
I always tell stakeholders that weather is life and life is weather. Weather has a lot of things to do with human beings and in the socio-economic of our country, all of them are weather sensitive and NiMET is the only agency that can advise on weather. We do this advisory in three tiers; one, we provide public weather service at no cost. For instance, the daily weather forecast, seasonal climate prediction, monthly, weekly and the three days update we are giving to water, road and air services are under this public service.
Second tier is the support service, which we offer to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the government in agriculture or any major project. Before they do anything, they rely on us for weather predictions. We render these to organisations at no cost.
The third tier is tailor made; this is demand specific based on stakeholder, client and sector. On this, we provide such tailor made services to agriculture – we do downscale seasonal information and updates. We have deployed a lot of instruments and we have also empowered our crew to handle point forecasts, which has helped to improve farm production and reduced a lot of risks in the system.
We also partner with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for all service providers in the sector, but we have not yet started implementation. We are just at the beginning stage. We, however, started with a pilot scheme whereby we developed a weather mobile meteorology by providing specific forecasts to farmers.
Also, we do a service that we call cutting calendar for farmers, in each local government, we can give a calendar based on the forecast of the year; what you should do from land clearing and harvesting. This has really helped farmers, every year we invite farmers and other stakeholders especially from rural communities to testify to the public on the advantages of this.
We have seen more than 30 per cent increase in yield and quantitatively, we are conducting research by employing our weather and climate information services. So, farmers are getting increasing yield; this has helped us a lot and we see it as another window of commercialisation so that if we can charge a token for providing these services to farmers. As you know, more than 70 per cent of Nigerians are farmers, we are just targeting five million as a pilot scheme.
Another sector that is of paramount to us is the marine sector; Nigeria is blessed, we have versed land, forest and also we have water. We have about 800 kilometers of coastal land, which include the Niger Delta area. Also, we import a lot of our commodities. There are lots of activities in the maritime sector. As aviation relies on per minute, per second weather information, that is how maritime also relies on us, but unfortunately, they take their marine weather service from the United Kingdom Meteorological office, which is causing Nigeria to lose hundreds of billions annually.
But, for NiMET, we have already established marine stations out of which we are upgrading in full now. Presently, the task team is on the field, doing capacity risk assessment to upgrade. We have procured four automatic marine stations and we are in talks with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). I think the time is ripe for us to seal this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them in order to begin to provide this service to the industry because the country is losing a lot of revenues by not providing this.
Presently, we provide monumental marine forecasts to the marine sector, but latest by October, we will begin full operations and I implore NIMASA and NPA to really collaborate with us. We already have a working MoU, but we have not yet signed it and it is under the WMO and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Convention that institutions must work together to provide these services. So, we are paying a courtesy visit to the organisations and we have already drafted a memo to the ministry in this regard.
With commercialisation of your services, how much do you think your organisation will earn annually?
We are doing very well in aviation now, which gives us more than 90 per cent of our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and even at that, we are not charging as commercial, we are charging as cost recovery, which is to sustain the operations. For a small meteorological service in a bush, you need about 25 people to run shifts, not to talk of an airport station. At the Lagos airport alone, we have more than 150 staff, for Abuja airport, we have more than 100 staff that run shifts and man all the equipment and facilities around the airports.
Our intention is to move from the 10 per cent revenue we get from other sectors to about 50 per cent. That is we intend to have 50-50 per cent revenue from aviation and other sectors. Quoting figures will be very difficult at this time.
What is your opinion on the allegation by some aviation professionals that some airports, especially Port Harcourt International Airport are not safe for flying because of poor equipment?
One of the best performing Doppler radar is at the Port Harcourt International Airport. Sometime in 2020, we had some technical issues and the engineers from the United States came onboard and rectified it and they are returning for service routine maintenance in the next two weeks.
I think Niger Delta experiences more than 300 raining days and that shows we have more than nine months of active raining activities over the year. So, we mostly advise pilots to yield to weather advisories and also to engage our airport personnel. At Port Harcourt Airport, we are upgrading our instrument now that we have visuals and also we have installed meteorological signals. It is automatic equipment, pilots can see the information and also we relate the information to the controllers.
The most important thing is for the pilots to yield to advisory, take forecasts before, weather advisory and also the terminal forecast to the destination airport before leaving.
Also, by integrating weather into their flight plan, it helps a lot in reducing risks and also helps them to plan. Besides, we issue weather alerts to operators, especially to passengers that during the rainy season, they should be very patient with airlines when there is a delay due to weather because we all know that in the air, there is no parking space. The moment you are in it and there is a hazard, you are going to encounter it.
The most important thing is yielding to these advisories and to add to this, we are planning stakeholders’ interactions in order to encourage, especially pilots and crew to consider weather as a very important part of the flight plan. In Abuja and Lagos airports, we are improving the pilots briefing rooms.
Port Harcourt in terms of our instrument is very okay now and we have to deploy an automatic weather delay system, which passes information to the air traffic controllers. The most important thing is to yield to the weather advisories and passengers should be very patient with airlines when there are delays due to bad weather. Delays happen all over the world, but the most important thing is communication.
What is the latest on the services you provide for Sierra Leone and Liberia?
Sierra Leone and Liberia depend on our daily weather services and in addition to these two countries, we are helping Mozambique and Malawi on early warning and the quality management system. As for The Gambia, our personnel have been there for the last two years, training 40 personnel of their meteorological service in The Gambia on the basic data entry and early warning system. The first set graduated in April this year. Sirika and I travelled for the graduation ceremony and the President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow expressed his deep appreciation by inviting the team to the State House.
In addition to what we have been doing in Africa, NiMET and my humble self was elected as a Council Member of WMO and this was due to the huge contributions of Nigeria on the continent. Recently again, NiMET and myself were elected as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD) based in Niamey, Niger Republic. It was established in 1987. I think this is due to the big roles Nigeria is playing on the continent and due to this visibility; we are more encouraged to do more within the continent.
How do you intend to build capacity in terms of training of technical personnel?
Training as you know is very important. I earmark some percentages of our resources to training monthly. Our staff work around the clock everywhere. We realise that with capacity building we can achieve a lot and more so we intend to improve the standards of our equipment.