•Summons Amaechi, Fashola, Sirika, others
From Fred Itua, Abuja
Strong indications emerged yesterday that the Senate may stop the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport by the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Aviation from March 8, 2017.
Senate President Bukola Saraki said: “The idea of closing down the airport is not the best.”
The Upper Chamber of the National Assembly worried that the closure will not serve the people’s collective interest 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 (SAN) and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Muhammad Bello.
Others invited include the Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar, officials of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other stakeholders in the aviation sector.
The top government officials are expected to brief Senators on the details of the planned closure as well as to explore other options to avoid a total shutdown.
The motion was sponsored by Senator Hope Uzodinma and co-sponsored by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe, Abdullahi A. Gume, Fatima Rasak and Baba Garbai.
Uzodinma said a six-week outright closure of a major and the only airport in the nation’s federal capital can inflict untold hardships on international and local air travellers and consequently dent the nation’s image.
He said a complete shutdown of the airport would impact negatively on international trade and related activities, with a multiplier effect that can exact further pressure on the recessed economy.
The lawmaker argued that the logistics and security challenges which the diversion of Abuja-bound flights to Kaduna would throw up, including endangering the lives and properties of international and local air travellers who will be forced to travel by road from Kaduna to Abuja.
Senator Ekweremadu 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.
“Closing the 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,” he said.
Deputy Senate Leader 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 said: “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 opposed the planned closure. But Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State, kicked against the motion. He criticised what he described as the hypocrisy of the political elite.
He said: “I oppose this motion. Kaduna can host international flights. From this motion, I can see the hypocrisy of political elite. Senators from Abia go to Owerri to travel 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?”