Abuja Airport As a Metaphor

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Given the euphoria that has trailed the successful reconstruction of the runway of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, my interest as usual is purely academic, a tall order in a country in which deep reflection about nation building is a luxury. The airport which services the federal capital closed on March 8 with the promise of being reopened on April 19 after a comprehensive overhaul.

There is a general national consensus that for once in recent time we recorded “a remarkable feat”. Well before the reconstruction deadline, new run away was delivered, precisely on Monday, April 17 with resumed flights and operations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA. Don’t get me wrong please. We must definitely salute the Hon Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, for delivering on promise and for reportedly putting his integrity on the line by vowing to resign if the airport was not reopened.

But lest we forget, this is a run way long over due for a repair almost two decades ago. The received wisdom has it that there is no greater crime than a loss of time. If we could roll out the drums for a belated rehabilitation , it will very well be nice we are also sobered with the knowledge of the huge costs we have so far incurred for the original delay and outright criminal neglect. To dispense with some N5.8 billion earmarked for an airport rehabilitation within a month and few days, must task our cost consciousness in an economy technically in a recession. That is if at all we are cost conscious in the first place. Undoubtedly the opportunity cost of non-repair is as high. But the opportunity cost of the decades long neglect is certainly higher. Sometimes in 2010 we were debating the prospect of building the second runway at the estimated controversial N63.5 billion contract. Almost a decade later, we are celebrating a rehab of an old run way even as we keep a sealed lip on building a new one. Nigeria is often characterized as a mono- economy, relying almost on nothing but oil and gas (accounting for 94 per cent of export earnings and 62 per cent of Government revenue!). Abuja airport is another metaphor for a nation that stands on one leg, sorry, for a nation whose major international airport relies on only (and only one!) rehabilitated run way.

For me the bigger picture of delay, neglect and the recent belated tokenism at a huge cost calls for sobriety rather the recent self praise that we have achieved “a feat”. With feat like this, we can as well say a farewell to ambitious nation building project. Yet Nigeria must learn to be ambitious as a nation. So far with all the official noise, the comprehensive repair of the Abuja terminal is yet to be completed. While we all micro manage Abuja airport, (sorry rehabilitating a runway!) we should not forget that Nigeria parades as many as 26 airports in the country operated by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). Five of these are called “international airports” namely that of Kaduna, Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Enugu. On arrival at the Murtala international airport, every passenger is ever psychologically prepared that the elevator will ever not function.

While the repair was on, President Buhari launched with fanfare , the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan Job creation and youth empowerment. One cardinal principle of this new commendable road plan for growth and development is to promote public finance aimed at reducing unemployment and under-employment, especially among the youths. Pray how many sustainable jobs are the fall outs of N5.8 billion Abuja airport repairs/ intervention? The ERGP also sets to promote local content. What then is the local content of N5.8 billion Abuja airport repairs? We even ignored the “local content” suggestion by critical stakeholders, in the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), who argued that the rehabilitation could take place with the airport in use. Are we using public intervention in infrastructure development to empower Nigerians and move the economy from recession to recovery or doing business as usual patronizing foreign investors and fueling capital flight and perpetuating underdevelopment? Still on ERGP . This wonderful document is almost romantic about “..placing emphasis on Made-in-Nigeria” as part of the “.. diversification of the economy”. It is therefore mind boggling seeing almost all Nigerians, federal government and the media alike doing generous promotion of Ethiopian Airlines, “the only foreign airline that accepted to use the alternative Kaduna airport during the rehabilitation” having being the first aircraft to have landed at the reopened airport. Haba! Again lest we forget, our national anthem opens with the clarion call “Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey, To serve our fatherland” NOT another country certainly not Ethiopia. Again don’t get me wrong. Ethiopia airlines in a gloablized world is commendably doing very well to corner the huge market share of Nigeria which scandalously kills its own national carrier. But even at that for as long as Abuja repair lasted Ethiopia airlines was not doing charity work but smart business making good money on routes abandoned by other international airlines. Why on earth should we rise in unison with cheap advert for a foreign airline having fun at our idiocy and gross underdevelopment? . Nigeria and Nigerians must certainly return to basics in patriotism and nation building. We sign on to open sky policy without reciprocal flights to any of the countries that have colonized our routes. That is bad enough. But it is a national shame and indeed national disgrace that we now inadvertently promote foreign airlines at the expense of our own.

Many Nigerian compatriots certainly feel diminished that a foreign airline was indulged to land on a runway Nigerians paid for and the first pilot to be so favored to speak to us is nor from Nigeria. Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe who the airport is deservedly named after must be wondering in his grave; what has happened to the promise of independence him and his compatriots fought for.