The Federal government at the weekend said it would downgrade the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu from its international status to a local airport. Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hardi Sirika, who made the revelation at a Stakeholders Forum held in Lagos, Friday, added the government was also considering a temporary shutdown of the Enugu Airport. He cited safety challenges raised by airline operators flying into the airport as the primary reason for the decision.
Sirika also listed other major challenges hampering the smooth operation of the airport to include the poor state of the airport runway; the presence of a state radio mast on the flight path of airlines which he said threatens the safety of incoming aircraft; the siting of a Free Trade Zone at the end of the runway; as well as incessant bird strikes affecting airlines and occasioned by the presence of an abattoir at proximity to the airport. He said he had discussed these issues with the Enugu State Governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwanyi.
Consequently, Ugwuanyi ordered the immediate closure of the Orie Emene Market. He also closed down the noxious abattoir and ordered an immediate removal of all illegal structures encroaching on the land of the airport.
According to the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe, “the Chairman of Enugu East Local Government Area has been directed to effect the immediate closure of the market”. He added that “the State Executive Council had on 12th October, 2018, approved funds for relocation of the State Broadcast Mast on the approach of the runway to Okpatu Hill (Ugwu Rerenkwu) in Udi Local Government Area, but the implementation of this project has been hampered by the disruptive activities of some youths in the community”, and directed the Traditional Rulers of Okpatu communities and Town Union Leadership to ensure full compliance with the directives.
The two sets of information above are instructive. It has brought to the fore the fact that federal government was aware of the concerns raised long ago on the safety of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. More than two years now, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, other Igbo-inclined socio-cultural groups, airline operators and passengers, have voiced serious concerns on the poor state of the runway and other facilities at the airport. In fact, it became a subject of rudicule to recount the extremely bumpy state of the airport’s runway. It appeared the federal government was unconcerned and had deliberately allowed the facilities to degenerate.
Recently, concerns were raised about the discriminatory high air fare charged by the Ethiopean Airlines due to frustrations caused mainly by the federal government. Needless throwing up risks associated with the absence of night navigation facilities at the airport and the general decrepit state of the airport and it’s smelly conveniences and generally unkept environment.
Whereas it is commendable that the federal government has at last woken up to its responsibility on the airport, the tone of Sirika’s statements do not provide any room for cheer at all. For one, the literal interpretation of the minister’s statements is that the only international and premier airport in the South-East of the Niger will no longer exist, at least in the immediate future, should the option of a shutdown be implemented. The language used is not one that provided any hope for the users of the airport and the people of the zone generally.
When we experienced comparable situation with the Nnamdi Azikiwe Internatiinal Airport in Abuja, the federal government immediately rehabilitated and upgraded facilities at the Minna and Kadunna airports to serve as alternative airports. It followed this with the rehabilitation of the Abuja-Kaduna expressway and ensured that the Abuja-Kaduna railway lines were commissioned and put to use up till today. These were done to ease the burden of landing at the alternative airports.
It is therefore expected that the Owerri and Asaba airport’s should be designated as alternative airports to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport and facilities therein upgraded to cooe with increased volume of business. Like when the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, contract for a comprehensive overhaul of the Enugu airport should be awarded first before shut down, money released for the execution, and inevitable time-lines set for the completion of the work.
Happily, Governor Ugwuanyi had immediately taken concrete action to address all the areas of concern raised by Sirika. The AUTHORITY commends Ugwuanyi for this timely action and urges him not to rest until he sees to the full implementation of the directives. The governor could be said to have been clairvoyant when he flagged off the Nike-Lake – Oye Emene link road. What he needs to do is to immediately upgrade the road project to a dual carriage way to cope with expected increased volume of traffic on the road and also to relocate the closed-down Oye Emene market to somewhere along that axis.
Governors and legislators of the South-East extraction both at the federal and state legislative assemblies should as a matter of exigency embark on internal shuttle diplomacy and lobby their colleagues at the federal level to see the restoration of broken-down federal infrastructures in the zone. The poor state of the few federal infrastructure in the zone have become national shame rather than being addressed from parochial prisms.
If the federal government accords the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Enugu airport same alacrity as with the Abuja airport, a major point raised by promoters of the talk of marginalisation of the zone would have been addressed. It is also expected that government should address apparent lack of supervision of the Enugu airport facility by the concerned agencies, especially the Federal Airports Authoriry of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Federal Ministry of Aviation. This is because the level of delapidation at the Enugu airport defies logic, except if reports on the airport were deliberately tucked away in the files. Such national infrastructure should never again be allowed to degenerate to that extent. It does no good to our national image and most importantly, it puts the lives of our dear citizens in avoidable danger.