From FRED ITUA, Abuja
Strong indications emerged, on Tuesday, that the Senate may halt the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport by the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Aviation.
The Senate, worried that the closure might not serve the collective interest of Nigerians, has summoned the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Muhammad Bello.
Others invited include the Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar, officials of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), as well as other stakeholders in the aviation sector.
The aforementioned top government officials are expected to brief Senators to provide details on the planned closure as well as to explore other options that can avoid a total closure of the airport.
The motion was sponsored by Senator Hope Uzodinma and co-sponsored by Ike Ekweremadu, Enyirmaya Abstibe, Abdullahi A. Gume, Fatima Rasak and Baba Garbai.
Uzodinma argued that that a 6-week outright closure of a major and the only airport in the nation’s Federal Capital can trigger untold hardships on international and local air travelers and consequently dent the nation’s image.
He said a complete shutdown of the airport will impact negatively on international trade and related activities, with a multiplier effect that can exact further pressure on an already recessed national economy:
The lawmaker argued that the logistics and security challenges the diversion of Abuja bound flights to Kaduna will throw up, including endangering the lives and properties of international and local air travelers who will be forced to travel by land from Kaduna to the nation’s capital.
Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ekweremadu in his intervention, said: “No doubt that we have challenges in the aviation sector, including delayed flights and insecurity. What I do not agree with is that the airport will be closed while the repairs are ongoing. It will not be a rocket science to repair a runway. It has been done in many parts of the world.
“For to close to airport means we are not thinking deeply. To think about closing it is an insult to our collective thinking. From those I have spoken with, it means there was no proper consultation.
“On security implications, many former and serving government officials have been kidnapped on that Kaduna road. It will be a major nightmare. We lost a serving minister on that road. Let us invite the Minister and dialogue on the way forward. If we have a solution, the Minister should be humble enough to accept them.”
Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah, noted: “I cannot express how disappointed I am with this position. It is good to engage the Minister so that superior views can be taken. We need to save our country.”
Senator Dino Melaye thundered: “It is laughable and ridiculous that in a modern world, we want to close an international airport. This will make us look stupid before the international community. We must have a means of seeking for alternative measures. If the news should go round the world that an international airport in a capital city like Nigeria is shut down, it will affect our image.”
Other lawmakers who spoke on the issue, opposed the proposed closure. Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State, however kicked against the motion. He criticized what he described as the hypocrisy of political elites.
He said: “I oppose this motion. Kaduna can host international flights. From this motion, I can see the hypocrisy of political elites. Senators from Abia go to Owerri to tavel by air. They do not complain of insecurity. Those in Ebonyi move to Enugu to travel and they do not complain of insecurity. Why are they opposing that of Abuja?”
“The idea of closing down the airport is not the best,” Saraki said.