Sense and sensibility
Living in Nigeria pre-supposes that one is endowed with a tough skin, and a spirit of endurance or long suffering, if you will. Conditions are harsh, tough and mostly unforgiving. Perhaps this explains why we (Nigerians) can be seen in the most unbelievable places of the world, living with the trajectory associated with such places. But in all of these, we have learnt to survive by seeing the lighter and funnier side of it all.
But certain things or actions cannot be quantified in the comedic, they usually evolve from the realm of the mundane to that of the ridiculous, lacking in conscientious reason(s), and leaves one wondering what indices were used to arrive at this kind of decision.
The Minister of State for Aviation recently revealed the Federal Government’s plan to shut down the international airport at the nation’s capital for a period of six weeks. This, he stated, was necessitated by the fact that the Abuja runway is obsolete and needs to be replaced. He stated that “The Abuja runway was constructed in 1982, and had overshot its designed lifespan by 14 years resulting in a number of distressed and failed portions of the runway.” He thereafter recalled the experiences some airlines have had on these runway, which according to him forms part of the reason the entire airport must be shut down.”
The desire to repair the runway is commendable, but has the Minister taken a serious and considerate look into alternatives, and more importantly, has he considered the dehydrating, exhaustive and acutely inconvenient effect it would have on the multitudes who shuttle between Abuja and various other destinations in and out of the country?
I think not. The decision to use the Kaduna airport as an alternative is most insensitive. It has made me wonder if at all there is a thought process at work when government officials arrive at such decisions. The Abuja airport is the international airport of Nigeria’s capital otherwise known as the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport. It is where the President receives foreign Heads of Government, or where foreign dignitaries are received. Abuja is also the hub of the Federal Government’s activities. All the ministries and government agencies are based there, so also are embassies and corporations. It is where the lifeline of the government is based.
This invariably means that unlike Lokoja, Anambra or Kaduna, different people from all works of life, from the West, East, South and North would without doubt be compelled to visit the FCT for one reason or the other. Judges attending seminars, business people seeking government permits, diplomats, students, security personnel, families meeting up for the weekend and a host of others who ply this route from different parts of the country everyday. Now, by virtue of this action, they would not only be subjected to the inconveniences of delayed flights which has now become the rule rather than the exception, they would also have to face the peril and obvious dangers of bad roads, armed robbery, and exasperation of travelling another three hours from Kaduna to Abuja, just because the entire ministry, including the Minister, who should as a matter of altruism, be thinking more of the negative and inundating effect this plan is going to have on the average traveler, cannot find a more conducive alternative to closing the airport.
Assuming the President wants to travel to Katsina or the Vice President to Ogun State, or anywhere within and out of the country as they are oft to do, it will simply mean that they would have to go all the way to Kaduna to board their flights. Or imagine a foreign Head of government has to come to Nigeria (ECOWAS for instance), the same routine would apply?
Also, what would happen to those government functionaries who attend the Federal Executive Council Meeting every Wednesday (Governors, former Presidents, former and current Chief Justices, ministers etc? Governance at the centre will literarily come to a stop. The road to and from Kaduna would be clogged with vehicles. Not to mention the volume of traffic that the airport would witness, a traffic it cannot contend with. There must have been a vacuum in the process that brought this idea to the fore.
The Abuja airport’s runway is 3,900 metres. As is the practice in saner and more sensitive climes, what the government ought to do is divide the airport’s runway into two, that is 2000 metres each, repair one while the other remains functional. I state without fear of contradiction that there is no airport within that proximity that can handle the volume of passengers or airplanes the Abuja airport handles. It continues to baffle a lot of well meaning Nigerians that the government would be willing to subject them to such an inhuman treatment of closing an airport, when there are better alternatives. As of today, flights are still arriving and departing the airport safely in spite of the so-called depressed portions of the runways. The Hon. Minister should let Nigerians know what would happen if a portion is closed and the other remains functional for the next seven weeks. The aim of this article is not just to criticize the callous decision to close down the FCT’s airport in spite of its status and importance in our national affairs, but more importantly, to show that the government did not or has not explored the alternate options available to it. Instead it has decided to take the easy street, which is filled with untold hardship and dangerous frustrations for travelers. Truly, inconsiderate.
Lastly, Section 14 subsections 1b of the 1999 Constitution provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Even if the government’s intentions are sanguine, must the people go through hell for that objective to be achieved? Particularly when there is an alternative? Have they imagined how ludicrous we would look when foreign dignitaries are directed to Kaduna because the airport in the nation’s capital is shut for runway repairs?
I am yet to find the funny side to this.