It is disturbing the planned closure/downgrade of Akanu Ibiam International airport in Enugu. And it is worrying the strength of reasons given for this impending action. Though the safety issues raised are germane, they are not enough to warrant a downgrade of that important facility in the southeast.
If the Enugu airport is so unsafe to necessitate a closure and downgrade, how about the Kano International Airport that is a glorified aerodrome and with a shorter and more battered runway? This is an airport where cows freely roam on the runway and that is swamped by drug smugglers; the same thing applies to the airports in Maiduguri and Kaduna? Why have these facilities not been shut down.
As of 2018, NCAA and FAAN certified the airport safe for operations. Why the sudden volte-face?
A few days ago, when the minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika announced that the airport would be closed, and subsequently downgraded to a local airport because the facility poses a “security risk,” he made the disclosure in Lagos, but failed to say if the Enugu government failed to comply with the demands for safety.
He said the security challenges at the airport include “bad runway, proximity to a market and wrong location of the state’s radio mast”.
As we already know, safety procedures are being put in place at the airport, with the closure of the market and the removal of the radio mast.
However, if these reasons are even viewed at a face value, are they cogent enough to necessitate the downgrade of such an important airport?
These challenges are naturally fixable, and the government of Enugu state has gone to work in relocating the market and removing the radio mast. A few years ago, under this administration, the Abuja airport runway was in very bad shape; it was closed for three months and reopened after repairs were carried out on it. Normal operations resumed afterwards. Fixing a bad runway is not enough reason to downgrade the only international airport in the southeast.
There are whispers that the planned downgrade of the airport may be an economic blockage of the southeast. The region has no seaports; it has no inland port, despite strong appeals to the government to establish one in the region, but now the only exit point to the world for businessmen and residents of the area is being shut.
Did the minister factor in the economic impact of this planned action on the region? As a matter of fact, it appears this is a pursuit of vendetta against the southeast. Currently, Kaduna has an inland port; another one is being constructed in Kano. There is an international airport in Kano; there is one Lagos, and another one in Port Harcourt, where does that leave the southeast?
The minister of aviation must be called to order now. He must desist from fanning the flames of ethnicity, and if he cannot function without prejudice as a public officer he must resign.
Civil Rights, justice advocate