For our country Nigeria this is one of those unusual times. We are in a transition mode; some leaders will be leaving office and going for something else, while a few would be going into their second tenure. Two days from now the air will be filled with the inauguration. At the federal level, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari would be sworn-in for a second term and in the 36 states across the country similar events would place. This should be the issue. Given our level of development and what the country is passing through, it is important at this time to critically take another look at the country, the state of development, the condition of the people, national institutions and the performance of the leadership.
This column wanted to do exactly that, in fact it would have been a worthwhile exercise to examine our penchant for outlandish inauguration ceremonies in the midst of huge underdevelopment, economic dislocation and the massive poverty and anguish that often would accompany it. By the time of putting this piece together very late last week, there were no surprises in the way we do old things. Not one of those to be sworn-in has been innovative enough to say that in the interest of the people the ceremony would be restricted to his family and a few government officials especially those relevant to the issue at hand. The problem of our country is so much and very complex that one thing needed would be high proficiency embedded in precision and speed. Going by this it would have been a pleasant surprise if about 10 out of the 36 to be sworn-in into office had announced their cabinets a day or two before the inauguration.
This certainly would have signposted a new thinking and a new era and it would have given the people a much needed hope to cling on, but as it is, it would not be a surprise if after the swearing-in on Wednesday, May 29, the matter of choosing a cabinet becomes another tool for unhealthy politicking and we would not be taken aback if in some instances it would take between three to six months to constitute in most cases what will turn out to be a cabinet of near average people. Our attitude especially in governance method has been part of the bane of progressive development in our country. The prayer is that this would change and it is the expectation that change would begin with this set of leaders to be inaugurated in three days from now. This column had wanted to look at this issue exhaustively but it is not in the right frame to undertake that assignment because of the untidy outburst that came from the outgoing Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika; he had told his audience in Lagos that Enugu International Airport may be downgraded to a local airport as a result of issues associated with aviation safety.
The outgoing minister who has been in the office for a greater part of the last three years listed the issues to include proximity of an abattoir, a broadcast mast belonging to the state broadcasting corporation and free trade zone located close to the airport and the issue of water supply. The minister’s observation is that the borehole available is not enough to provide adequate water supply, and as such the state government should take the responsibility to link the airport water supply system to the closest river and unless all these are rectified immediately, the airport would be downgraded and approved only for local flights.
The minister we must grant him that was within his right when he made the statement, no one can hold him down on that. As the minister in-charge of aviation, it is his cardinal responsibility to oversee activities in the aviation sector, development of our airports and its safety are within the purveyor of his designated assignments. Cabinet status is high position which means there are clear administrative etiquette governing overall conduct while exercising authority. At the level of a minister one should be highly circumspect in policy formulation and pronouncement. A lot of sensitivity is taken into account and it is moreso for a complex and plural country such as ours. It is doubtful whether Lagos was a proper place for the outgoing minister to make the kind of detailed statement he made about Enugu International Airport. The other fact is that the minister has been in power all the while and he is not on record to have drawn public attention to these issues and just decided to talk, and talk wild with just 15 days to go. It raises suspicions about his motives perhaps chief of them would be the message that he is working very hard and requires more time to finish his laudable effort and one of the best ways to achieve it is to make a statement capable of stirring up unnecessary controversy.
Sirika’s outburst was patronizing, it gave out the impression that upgrading the Enugu airport and making it fit for international flight was more like a favour to Ndigbo and not a genuine task aimed at proper development of the country. It was very condescending and seemed to convey the impression that as far as Nigeria and development is concerned, the Igbo are helpless. If these were not to be the case it would be difficult to fathom why Enugu airport will have to be linked to a stream and by the state government before adequate water supply can be guaranteed. One can ask if other airports in the country were linked to nearby rivers and streams before adequate water supply could be achieved and if they were who bore the cost; state or federal government?
Sirika’s statement followed a now familiar pattern of thought. We are surprised because many thought that given our experiences we would have long gone past that level, unfortunately the outgoing minister has reconfirmed we have not yet gone beyond that level and this is unfortunate. He ran away from his responsibility when he said the airport is good enough for local flight but not for international. It introduces a great contradiction which he may not be available to solve. Buhari and his government should not take the issue of Enugu airport lying low, the Jonathan people started the work and it would be of greater honour if in the spirit of continuity the Buhari administration brings it to a conclusion.
We must commend the Enugu State government. They have reacted very well by closing the abattoir as well as the local market around there and directed that the mast and the free trade zone be removed. It is a sign that they understand and appreciate the issues involved. Other state governments in southeast zone of Nigeria must react appropriately too. It must be immediate. It is about the welfare of Ndigbo and for that reason all hands must be on deck. The governors must meet immediately and declare their financial contributions. It is time governors in the zone learn to undertake economic missions and one way to start is with this issue surrounding the development of Enugu International Airport. Nothing wrong if they visit Ethopia, Britain, France, United States and Germany to get their airlines to fly in and out from Enugu. This is the task.