The renaming of the Mallam Abubakar Imam International Airport is not right

A few days before leaving office in May last year, President Muhammadu Buhari directed that 15 of the federal airports in the country be named after some prominent Nigerians. Subsequently, the Benin Airport was named after Oba Akenzua II; Dutse Airport, Muhammad Nuhu Sanusi; Ebonyi Airport, Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo; Gombe Airport, Zakari Maimalari; Ibadan Airport, Samuel Ladoke Akintola; Ilorin Airport, Tunde Idiagbon; Kaduna Airport, Hassan Usman Katsina; Akure Airport, Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu; Nasarawa Airport, Usman Dan Fodio; Osubi Airport, Alfred Diete Spiff; Port Harcourt Airport, Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo; Yola Airport, Lamido Aliyu Mustapha and Makurdi Airport, Joseph Sarwuan Tarka. Maiduguri Airport was named after Muhammadu Buhari. The last one, in the Niger State capital, was directed to be named ‘Mallam Abubakar Imam International Airport, Minna.’

However, in a curious move last week, the Minna airport was renamed ‘Bola Ahmed Tinubu International Airport’ by Governor Mohammed Umar Bago. That a governor would rename a federal airport raises several questions and the acceptance of the farce by the president is unfortunate. More provocative is that Bago would treat with disdain the memory of Abubakar Imam generally regarded as the single biggest figure in Hausa literature. A respected journalist and writer, Imam and the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe were professional contemporaries during the pre-colonial era.

Although from Kagara, Niger State, until his death in 1981, Imam lived in Zaria, Kaduna State where he was the first Hausa editor of ‘Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo’, the pioneer Hausa-language Newspaper in Northern Nigeria. It is on record that Imam wrote most of the best books for teaching Hausa in schools. When in 1938 the colonial Department of Education organised a Hausa essay competition, Imam reportedly won with his book ‘Ruwan Bagaja’ while Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who would later be the first post-independent Prime Minister of Nigeria came second.

Beyond the foregoing is the issue of legality. Aviation is on the Exclusive List in the Constitution. So, for a governor to cancel the action of a president on matters that are exclusively federal is beyond the pale. That Tinubu accepted the offer is an indication that the presidency endorsed the decision. That should never happen. Imam has borne the name for only 10 months before it was changed by a state governor who does not have the statutory power to do so. Yet, the airport is the only edifice named after him for all his professional accomplishments.

We concede that the Niger State government has been contributing to the improvement and sustenance of the airport. Recently, the state government resurfaced the runway and has been providing other infrastructure to ensure that the airport continues to serve the people of the state. However, these commendable efforts have not given Governor Bago the power to rename a federal government airport. There are many things the governor can name after the president in his state, but this is wrong.

The Governor was quoted to have said that the renaming of the airport in honour of the president was to ‘put a square peg in a square hole’. We fail to understand that. Tinubu was never a pilot, an aeronautical engineer, manager of airport or an air traffic controller. Therefore, one cannot explain how naming the airport after the president was putting a square peg in a square hole. Bago of course cited an approval for the state to establish the first special airport agro-processing free zone for which he credits the presidentThat is okay. But the governor should have waited to complete work at the planned airport after which he can then name it after Tinubu.

In the interest of public decency, we urgethe president to direct FAAN to revert the name to‘Mallam Abubakar Imam International Airport, Minna.’

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