The Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, was closed on August 24, for the renovation of its runway. The authorities had said it was unsafe. Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, having promised that the airport’s renovation would be completed in time for the seasonal mass movement of people during the Yuletide, it was expected that the contractors would be on site a day after the closure.
But as days turned to weeks with no sign of work at the airport, the anxiety of regular users of the airport turned into panic until last week, Thursday, when President Muhammadu Buhari approved N10 billion for the project. The money is from a special intervention fund because the project is being treated as an emergency case. The sudden collapse of the airport’s runway was not contemplated and, therefore, was not included in the 2019 budget.
The announcement by the President was the climax of the courtesy visit paid the president by the leaders of the South East region at the State House, Abuja, last week, at which they expressed their appreciation for the extent of the work done on the 2nd Niger Bridge. They also drew the president’s attention to the poor state of the roads in the South East region. On his part, President Buhari said he was fully aware of the centrality of the airport to the socio-economic life of the South East and the infrastructure challenges in the region and all over the country, which he traced to lack of judicious use of resources by past leaders, a situation which, he said, his administration is working hard to change. “I personally believe that if we get infrastructure correct – roads, rail, power – most Nigerians will mind their business. They would not even care who is in government. But when you deny them infrastructure, it would be difficult for them to compete and move around the country.” He then appealed to the governors to explain to their people the willingness of the government and the constraints arising from scarce resources to meet all expectations.
We commend the President for approving the funds. We enjoin him to ensure that the money is disbursed promptly so that work can begin at the airport. In May when the minister raised questions about the safety of the airport and demanded the relocation of a market in the airport, which he feared was attracting birds, the state government promptly closed the market and relocated the radio mast, the aviation authorities complained about.
Going by the minister’s stated plans, the reconstruction would include a cargo terminal. The runway will also be extended to allow for the installation of approach lights for the airport’s lighting system. The hope is that when the renovation is completed, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport would have been upgraded to be on the same pedestal as the Abuja Airport.
The airport is named after the first governor of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, a man so loved by Nigerians for his goodness and integrity. The airport is one of the oldest in the country, being, indeed, a colonial aerodrome before independence. It is rightly called the gateway to the East, being the oldest and most central in the entire defunct Eastern Region, which then included Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa states.
We appeal to the Minister of Aviation to fulfill his promise of ensuring that the airport rehabilitation is completed before the Yuletide. The mass movement of people at that time of the year will be so much. The airports at Owerri and Asaba would be inadequate to handle the traffic. The roads would be so congested and many of them are in disrepair. The successful rehabilitation of the airport would be a big relief to so many in the South South and South East regions. It will ensure a safe and less chaotic travel during the Christmas holiday season.