OPINION: Before Abuja airport is shut down – Reuben Abati

Published:10 Jan, 2017

Dr. Reuben Abati
Dr. Reuben Abati

A few years ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria shut down the Port Harcourt International Airport to carry out what they called repairs or was it renovation? It was supposed to be an exercise for a few weeks, but it took more than an entire year. Flights were diverted to an airport in the city at great cost to travellers, but the so-called renovation took forever.

The Port Harcourt airport became a grazing field for cows, at other times, a vehicle-driving field, and for more than one year, travel to Port Harcourt, one of Nigeria’s most strategic cities was a nightmare. Each time the Nigerian government talks about fixing the airports, using the words, renovation, rehabilitation or reform, it is better to be cynical. The Sam Mbakwe Airport in Owerri, for example, was once touted as a major hub in the South East, and government spent so much money turning it into an international cargo airport for the East, but that same airport soon became flooded during the rainy season and planes could no longer land.

Both the Port Harcourt and Owerri airports are currently in a permanent state of renovation. The lives of those who wanted to renovate them at any level whatsoever are ironically and scandalously, imaginably better renovated. The airports failed, the managers smiled to the banks. In those two airports, travellers were put through enormous strain because the entire airports or sections had to be shut down. But the people, expectant as they were had no choice in the matter. The Nigerian government is so powerful; the people are helpless. The same government the people elect with their votes punishes them unjustly. The people themselves behave as if they are in bondage. This was what happened in particular when the Port Harcourt Airport was being renovated. Travellers were abused. Airlines subjected them to enormous indignity. Businesses suffered. Government failed to keep its promise. The airlines and their staff even became arrogant, failing to realize they were victims too. They treated customers shabbily and there was no way anyone could blame them when government itself was uncaring.

Looked at differently, the biggest problem is not necessarily the politicians and their appointees who sashay in and out of power, but the civil servants who run the engine room of government and who over the years have perfected a culture of graft and incompetence. They look the other way when politicians dismantle the rules, often times out of sheer cruelty and for the better part, the political leaders are guided to do so by the civil servants. Which department of government is responsible for the maintenance of airports?: The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). I believe everybody in that agency should be lined up and caned publicly and investigated according to the law. Should they have any stories to tell about the poor state of Nigerian airports, despite the enormous amounts that are budgeted yearly, they should tell us as each stroke of the cane descends on their buttocks. I don’t consider corporal punishment a tool of governance, so I speak metaphorically, but the rot in the aviation section is so terrible, a feeling of outrage commands something extra-ordinary. Weigh that against the plane crashes, loss of lives, and the agony of air travel just because some incompetents have had to superintend over Nigeria’s aviation sector.

I am this outraged because a sad story is about to repeat itself. The Federal Government of Nigeria is proposing to shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, beginning March 8, for six weeks: to build a second runway and to carry out renovations. During the period, flights will be diverted to Kaduna Airport and passengers will be required to travel by rail or road to Abuja. The excuse is that the runway in Abuja is almost collapsing. The life span of a runway is 20 years and this particular runway in Abuja has been there for 34 years. Politicians come and go but one significant fellow has suddenly woken up in either the FAAN or the Ministry of Aviation and a proposal has been submitted for renovation. And that proposal is now causing so much commotion. All the characters responsible for this costly neglect and delay should be lined up and sanctioned, and that should include a thorough investigation into the possibility of this “new” project having being proposed, budgeted for and cash-backed before now. At what point did it occur to FAAN that the airport needs a second runway, and who is the brain behind the hair-brained proposal that is now before the public?

We have been told that for six weeks, flights will be diverted to the Kaduna airport. The Minister of State for Aviation (by the way, who is the Minister of Aviation?) has been quoted saying he wants “knowledge” as to how this can be managed. The Ministry has also summoned a meeting of stakeholders after taking the decision. This has been a classic case of acting before thinking, making it all appear ridiculous. The international airlines are insisting that they find this kind of thinking inconvenient. Truly so: Local airline operators are not excited either. The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) and the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) are protesting. Common sense, a scarce commodity at this time, should have dictated that a meeting of stakeholders should have been held before the decision was taken. But the arrogant position-holders took the decision first and then decided to invite the stakeholders as an after-thought. Ask these questions: is there an ulterior motive? Ignore common sense and present the public with a fait accompli? Is that their plan? Is politics, in the shape of further Northernization involved? And why? Make Kaduna a new hub? Shift aviation travel further North? The failure to maintain runways and observe best practices is a reflection of the Nigerian problem: our national nonsense. Besides, Nigeria is forever a victim of last minute decisions. We remember to think when it appears too late to do so. Conspiracy theories are thus enabled when those who should act rightly behave as if they are busy thinking with their orifices.
Get it: The decision to shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja and move traffic to the Kaduna airport for six weeks has not been properly thought through. Poor thinking is the enemy of good governance. There is no guarantee to start with, that the renovation and rehabilitation can be completed in six weeks. Remember Port Harcourt and Owerri. We have been told nevertheless, that this is a good decision. But the timing is unwise. We are moving passengers to Kaduna at a time that same state and city is in turmoil. Thousands are being slaughtered daily in Southern Kaduna. The crisis has both religious and ethnic undertones. And now we are moving more Nigerians to the North, so they can get killed at the airport on or their way to Abuja? Who in his or her right senses would like to travel through Kaduna at this time?

A standard travel advisory should be: travel through Kaduna at your own risk and commit possible suicide. And to this: let no paid vuvuzela tell me the roads are safe and that the rail line to Abuja does not pass through Southern Kaduna. Also consider this: Government says it will provide buses. Who will bear the cost? Traveling from wherever to Kaduna to reach Abuja is likely to be more costly in every sense. Will the airlines bear the cost? Or the already aggrieved travellers will be subjected to extra cost and pain? Foreign airliners have already rejected the Kaduna airport. It is by every international standard a poor airport. It can’t even accommodate a crowd. Why would government subject travellers to obvious chaos and behave as if it does not matter. Copy this:

“The Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, however, said total closure of the Abuja airport runway was inevitable, judging from the worrisome level of dilapidation…. (I see)
The minister assured of adequate security of travellers on transit by road from Abuja to Kaduna and vice versa, adding that the Ministry of Defence, the Nigeria Police, National Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Directorate of State Security and other agencies will provide cover for airlines and passengers. (Really?)
“We’ll increase the number of security personnel around Kaduna Metropolis; we’ll have traffic officials in every village and intersection. There’ll be members of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), fire fighters and ambulances at certain strategic positions. Police and the Air Force are to provide aerial patrols, complemented by ground police. (Bribery and extortion loading…)

There will be intelligence gathering. There will be bus coaches, train services, specialised car hire services and helicopter shuttles from private operators. But government will provide shuttles for passengers,” he assured. (Talk is cheap, truly)

This is precisely why the Ministry of Aviation should reconsider its stand. Stakeholders including foreign airlines should be carried along before any further step is taken and that has to be in line with international best practices. Everybody involved should admit that we are dealing with a Nigerian crisis. Nigerians who travel by air don’t deserve to be punished. They have suffered enough already. The airlines can’t even get enough aviation fuel in Abuja, not to talk of Kaduna.

Let no one forget this: Abuja is a strategic city. Those who travel there do so with a purpose. It is the city of adventurers not settlers. It is the city of the Federal Government. People go there to sort out government matters including contracts and other matters. Shutting down the Abuja airport is like shutting down the city, and perhaps the entire country. The Ministry of Aviation makes it sound as if this is inevitable, but we must tell them, and tell them again, that the Kaduna airport is not ready and to repeat the Port Harcourt experience in Abuja would be sad and counter-productive. It is not for nothing that the international airlines are already protesting that they don’t want to go to Kaduna. The argument about fixing the runway to make it safer is okay, and we all know why nothing is ever properly maintained in this country, and why projects of six weeks end up taking one year, and more, so don’t tell me the obvious, but government decisions no matter how well-meaning, should be governed by good thinking. A mismanaged renovation of the Abuja airport could result in months of avoidable agony and disaster for the Nigerian economy.

Related Posts

Recent Posts

BREAKING: Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh ‘agrees’ to step down

Yahya Jammeh has agreed to step down as president of The Gambia, according to reports.   Nicholas Germain, a France 24 journalist, quoted sources as saying Jammeh is currently writing a statement where he accepts to cede power.   Guinean officials tell @FRANCE24 that Jammeh currently writing statement where he accepts to leave, in the presence of Guinean officials — nicolas germain (@nicolasF24) January 20, 2017   Jammeh, who lost Gambia’s presidential election to Adama Barrow, initially accepted defeat and...

BREAKING: Donald John Trump sworn in as 45th president of the United States of America

American billionaire Donald  John Trump has been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America, succeeding Barack Obama in the White House.   You can follow the updates here on live stream:   http://edition.cnn.com/specials/inauguration-360-live-video

3rd Mainland Bridge Traffic: The irresponsibility of Fashola & FERMA – By Adeeko Ademola

Recently, there have been tales of terrible gridlocks in a particular part of Lagos, the third mainland bridge to be precise and this has over time had it's toll on the traffic situation of some major routes in the metropolis.The Third Mainland Bridge is the longest of three bridges connecting Lagos Island to the mainland, the other two being the Eko and Carter bridges. The bridge which serves as an alternative route to Agege...

Governor Obiano Commits To Employing 178 Youths In Anambra

The Anambra state government has pledged its commitment to solving the problem of youth unemployment in the state, through opening windows of opportunity in various fields of the economy including agriculture, trade and commerce, in the civil service. The Secretary to the State Government, Professor Solo Chukwulobelu, revealed this when he visited the Umuawulu Training Camp where 178 youths were undergoing training ahead of employment into the state civil service under Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra, OCHA Brigade. The agency...

Gabriel Jesus Cleared To Make Debut Against Tottenham

Manchester city have been cleared to play 19-year-old Brazilian winger, Gabriel Jesus, against Tottenham on Saturday, after formally completing his £27 million move from Palmeiras. The Brazil international, Jesus, has agreed to a five-year deal with City in August. He stayed with Palmeiras until the end of the Brazilian season in December. The footballer has won an Olympic gold medal with his country, having scored three times in the men’s football tournament in Rio, after which he was promoted to the...

Lagos To Launch Community Policing To Tighten Security

In a bid to reduce crime and complement the efforts of security agencies, the Lagos state Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has announced plans to strengthen community policing.   He disclosed that the government would recruit 5,700 personnel, with 100 in each of the 20 local government and local council development areas within the first quarter of 2017.   The governor also announced plans to extend its infrastructural renewal drive with the construction of 181 local government roads in 2017.   He made the revelation at...

Boko Haram: 75 NSCDC Personnel Killed In Borno In 2016 – Officials

The Borno Command of the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps says 75 personnel of the command were killed while 15 were declared missing in action in the year 2016.   The Commandant of the Corps, Ibrahim Abdullahi, told journalists in a news conference that the officers were killed in separate attacks in Gwoza and Gamboru Ngala in the Boko Haram insurgency.   “We have alerted our sister agencies on the issues while the NSCDC national headquarters have assisted the families of the bereaved.”...

NCC begins enforcement of N5 million fine over unsolicited Calls/SMS

Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has said that it has commenced the enforcement of the Do Not Disturb (DND), code which compels mobile network operators to stop sending unsolicited messages to their subscribers.   Prof Umar Danbatta executive vice chairman of NCC at a meeting with the Academia on ITU Study Group Participation held at Digital Bridge Institute, Abuja, said the move became imperative because the NCC had given the operators ample time to comply with the regulatory directive and was now...

Barack Obama berates Republicans for blocking efforts to close Guantanamo Bay

US President Barack Obama delivered an angry parting shot at Congress on Thursday, berating Republicans for blocking his efforts to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The facility “never should have been opened in the first place” Obama said in a scathing two-page letter on the eve of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. “There is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress’ insistence on keeping the facility open,” he added. Trump has vowed not...

Trial of ex-NIMASA boss, Jauro, fixed for January 24.

A Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday fixed Jan. 24 for continuation of the trial of a former Acting Director-General of NIMASA, Haruna Jauro, who is facing a N304.1 million fraud charge.   Jauro, who assumed leadership of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), is charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside Dauda Bawa and Thlumbau Enterprises Ltd on 19 counts bordering on fraud.   The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the defendants, who were...

BREAKING: Yahya Jammeh asks for extension of deadline to vacate office.

Gambia’s leader Yahya Jammeh has asked for the extension of the deadline given to him to vacate office by ECOWAS from noon to 4 pm local time, Reuters reported on Friday.  Senegal forces entered the Gambia hours after the opposition figure Adama Barrow, who won the December 2016 presidential election in the small West African nation, was sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar.   But the military intervention – named Operation Restore Democracy – aimed at installing Barrow...

Washington braces up for massive protests as Trump takes oath of office

Law enforcement officers in Washington were on Friday in brace for hundreds of thousands of people planning to celebrate or protest Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States. About 900,000 people were expected to jam-pack central Washington, including the grassy National Mall facing the Capitol, where the New York businessman and former reality TV star will be sworn in. A disparate group of liberal activists irked by comments by Trump about women, illegal immigrants and Muslims have planned protests...

We shut tomato processing plant due to lack of forex, says Dangote official.

Edwin Devakumar, a senior executive with Dangote Group, says the conglomerate had to shut down its tomato processing factory due to lack of foreign exchange for raw material import.   In an interview with Reuters, Devakumar, said the Dangote group has been cutting down its operations across board due to lack of necessary foreign exchange.   “Where the foreign exchange is not available, we are cutting down our operations. For example … we had a tomato-based processing plant, we have shut it down,” Devakumar...

JUST IN: IPOB Trump solidarity rally turns violent

The solidarity rally by the indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, for new US President, Donald Trump in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State has turned violent. Media and Publicity ?secretary of IPOB, Mr. Emma Powerful, in a short message he sent to DAILY POST alleged that no fewer than 11 members of the pro-Biafra group have been shot dead by security operatives. “They have attacked our people; 11 have been confirmed dead, many others have bullet wounds”, he claimed in the statement. He alleged that...

Protests erupt in Sri Lanka against Donald Trump

A small, but vociferous group on Friday staged a protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka on the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. President, officials said.   Carrying placards and chanting slogans, the protestors denounced Trump’s comments on various issues including the environment, war and immigrants and claimed they could have an impact on Sri Lanka.   “We are showing our solidarity with all the people throughout the world who are taking part in protests against president-elect Trump,’’ Siritunga Jayasuriya, leader...

Meet The #PadMan advocating Reusable Sanitary Pads for School Girls

With Nigeria in a recession, embracing frugality is helpful and recommended, but there are things that frugality can’t deal with. One of them is the cost of sanitary pads in Nigeria today. Women and girls simply cannot opt out of their periods. Barring pregnancy or ovulatory disorders, menses will occur every month and the flow must be dealt with. Imagine all these worries for teenage girls attending schools combining the fears of expensive sanitary pads with the...

Two teachers rape girl after showing her porn.

Two teachers, Stanley Akanno and Olakunle Hassan, both teachers in a private primary school in Amuwo Odofin, were yesterday paraded by Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 2, AIG Kayode Aderanti, for serially defiling their 6-year-old female pupil.   The teachers, he said, during extra mural classes, showed pornography on their laptop to the pupil and made her practice same on them. “The pupil has been taken to a government hospital where it was medically established that she had been deflowered. The...

Educate the girl child, stop building mosques – Sarkin Kano

The emir of Kano Mallam Muhammad Sanusi II has called out wealthy northerners to stop building mosques and to stop early marriage of the girl child and start educating female children, since majority of these girls can barely read and write. He made the call on Thursday in his keynote address at the 3rd international conference on Islamic Banking and Finance, organised by the International Institute of Islamic Banking and Finance, Bayero University, Kano. “I’m just tired of people coming to...

IG raises alarm over the rise of suicide cases in the Police force

The Nigerian Police Force is worried over the rising cases of suicide among its officers across the country. The Assistant Inspector General of Police (IGP) Zone 5, Abubakar, Mohammed, lamented the development in an interactive session with policemen in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on Thursday. He said recent statistics confirmed that more policemen are taking their lives. Mohammed, a former Director at the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) office in Lyon, France, said the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) has ordered senior police officers...

UPDATE: Jammeh’s step-down deadline may be shifted by 12 hours to solidify negotiations

West African leaders have given Yahya Jammeh, who lost elections last month, until midday on Friday to hand over power and agree to leave The Gambia or face military action carried out by the regional bloc ECOWAS.   However, as it is now, all indications show that the deadline may be shifted by 12 hours as leaders of Guinea and Mauritania are currently in The Gambia for talks with Jammeh to leave power.   Though, this information is yet to be made official,...

El-Rufai donates land for Methodist Church in Kafanchan, begs church not to relocate

Governor Nasir Elrufai of Kaduna State has promised to provide additional land for building of Methodists church in Kafanchan, Southern Kaduna The governor who made the promise when he received the prelate of the Methodist Church Dr. Samuel Chukwuemeka Kanu Uche in his office also urged the Church not relocate from their present location. He said: “I visited your church in Kafanchan after the violence. We are willing to give you another plot of land in Kafanchan, but please consider...