The sudden closure of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, is difficult to comprehend. It is mind-boggling and mindless. The arguments tendered for shutting down the airport are tenuous, unsustainable, unsound, thoughtless, narrow-minded, and absurd. The closure of the airport, presumably intended to allow renovation of the runway, has proved to be a Trojan Horse used by the Federal Government to mask its intentions to undermine the South East region and beyond.
Consider this. At a session with the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, said work has not started at the airport because government has not provided the money to facilitate the renovation. At the same time, he tried but failed to assure everyone that work, which is yet to start, would be completed in December. How far-fetched. How optimistic. How unrealistic. By end of December, the same minister would find another bizarre reason to explain why the projected timeline could not be achieved.
The minister said a request for a N10-billion special grant had already been forwarded to the government for the reconstruction of the airport’s runway but noted that approval had not been received by the ministry. So, where did the minister draw his optimism that the reconstruction work would be completed in December? Amazingly, the minister suggested that the government had negotiated with a contractor and made initial payment to the contractor. This is neither here no there. The minister must be living in dreamland. If you believe the minister, you would believe any stunt pulled by the government on the citizens.
Statements like this make you wonder whether some ministers were informed or educated about the challenges of their ministry. The reasons given by the minister were lousy, insulting, unbelievable, and banal. How could a minister say that work that had not started at the Enugu airport would be concluded in barely 10 weeks? An extremely obsequious minister such as Sirika should not give improvised and highly implausible assurances in order to justify the delay in the start of renovation at the Enugu airport. The excuse is sheer nonsense. The Nigerian public is not kindergarten schoolchildren and certainly that community is not gullible.
We must keep in mind that this shocking statement came six weeks after the airport was shut down. Why did the minister order the closure of the airport when the ministry had not received money for the renovation of the airport? The minister, I would argue, is blundering, wily, clever by half, inventive, and has failed to perform the basic tasks of his ministry.
Over the past decades, Nigeria has seen and experienced a few ministers and other public officers who excelled in their responsibilities. But in this current government, we have seen ministers whose performance has been less than average.
No minister should insult people’s intelligence by presenting silly statements as cover for government’s dishonesty. The Enugu airport can be renovated within weeks, if the government is willing, sincere, and forthright. I am afraid this government does not appear to possess those attributes.
There are so many things wrong with the decision to close the airport, particularly at the time it was done. First, the decision was ill-advised and wrongly timed. No government minister would wake up and announce the closure of an important airport that serves as the gateway to the South East region and beyond without appropriate consultations with stakeholders. As the chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, reminded the aviation minister the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, is the gateway to the South East region and the Middle Belt, as well as the entire country. So, the airport is strategic.
The closure of the airport was swift. Advance notice ought to have been given to various groups for whom the airport serves as a source of livelihood to enable them to plan their relocation and prepare how to deal with economic and infrastructural hardships that would be generated by the closure. As it turned out, no consultation was done because government, public officers, and political leaders in Nigeria see themselves as little gods that everyone must worship.
Enugu Airport runway might be in need of rehabilitation but it is certainly not the worst of all the airports in the country. Additionally, the airport was closed without government undertaking the necessary economic and safety impact analysis. While safety at airports is a priority all over the world, there are ways through which major international airports across the world undergo a facelift without causing problems to the general population.
The fact that renovation has not started at the airport suggests the closure of the Enugu airport was designed to cause maximum discomfort to citizens and businesses in the region. Part of the strategies for mitigating economic hardships before an airport is closed for repairs is selecting a time of the year when air traffic is not at a peak. It is senseless to announce the closure of an important regional airport without sound arrangements about when the renovation would commence, the timeline for completing the work, and an indication of when the airport would reopen for business.
Regardless of the benefits that might accrue from the renovation of the airport, there is no greater mischief than this. Six weeks after the airport was shut down, there is yet no evidence of any contractor on site. There is no evidence of the exact date work would commence. There is no evidence of equipment being assembled at the airport ahead of commencement of the facelift. Indeed, there is no evidence that the government has a clear idea of how long the repair work would last.
Why does a government that is supposed to lessen the burden of life on citizens further contribute to aggravate citizens’ problems?
The failure to start renovation work at the Enugu airport weeks after its closure has exposed the insincerity of government, the persistent problem of poor governance in Nigeria, the placement of inept officials in strategically important positions, and the failure of government to demonstrate a duty of care for citizens.
Nigeria is facing a major test in its history. The economy is in bad shape. Infrastructure has collapsed. Universities, polytechnics, and secondary schools have become a hunting ground fit for the breeding of morally depraved lecturers who see female students as their personal property. It is outrageous that lecturers should demand sexual gratifications from female students. These are the same students that lecturers are expected to mentor, to look after, to help shape their character, and to help chart the students’ future career path.
If higher education is in a rot, the judiciary is no better. Corruption has undermined the judiciary so much so that members of the Nigerian Bar Association, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, past and current judges and magistrates are at the forefront of the campaign to get rid of corruption in the judiciary.
Beyond the judiciary, we cannot lose sight of the gross depravity that is going on in churches. Like university lecturers, pastors have abandoned their religious obligation to spread the word of God. They have chosen to rape and sexually harass vulnerable female members of their congregation.
Nigeria is in deep trouble. All institutions that are designed to build a better society and enhance the moral character of citizens are now in a free fall. The race for the most dishonourable institution has started.