The logic of more airports? Read my lips
The Federal Government is to build glittering new airports in Anambra, Ekiti, Nasarawa, Benue, and Ebonyi states. Good news, I think. They will be a glittering state of the art airports, no less.
The government, given its strong shoulders to bear the burden, will also take over the airports in Kebbi, Osubi, Dutse, and Gombe. We already have 26 airports in the country. Nine more airports for a total of 35 airports in the giant of Africa, would not likely break the loudly creaking back of the Nigeria Airports Authority, the federal agency that manages our airports. The right of every state to a federally-funded airport, like a federal university, is an obligation under a federal system. All states are equal and all must have evidence of federal presence.
ThisDay newspaper is not happy about the new airports. In its editorial of November 18, More airports in whose interest? the newspaper said that the federal government decision “raises some serious questions.” It argued that of the 26 airports, only six of them have an annual record of 5,000 aircraft movements. In other words, 20 are either not utilised or grossly under-utilised. The newspaper then posed this question: “In a period of lean resources when the same government is borrowing to meet commitments, why does it have to saddle the country with more cost centres?”
A good question and one not likely to be answered by the authorities because such questions are usually raised by those who do not understand the wise ways of a government’s philosophy of giant developmental strides made possible by other people’s money. In the view of the newspaper, the decision amounts to inexplicable and reckless profligacy, if not utter foolishness. Building more airports destined to be under-funded, under-equipped, and under-utilised must make political sense.
I disagree with the newspaper and welcome the government’s decision to make airports accessible to all citizens. I believe there are some perfectly good reasons for what the critics would dub the latest madness on the part of the federal authorities. You see, we have about 193,200 km of roads in the country. The federal government has direct responsibilities for 34,000 km; state and local governments take care of the rest. Most of us travel on these federal, state, and local government roads. We know only too well how well they are maintained. No port holes, no gullies, no broken bridges, and, certainly, no instances of roads that seem unable to decide if they are roads or footpaths. Fixing the roads has been problematic for all governments – federal, state, and local government. Something had to give.
Eugene Enahoro, a Daily Trust columnist, gave some thoughts to this and in his column of October 13, 2020, he wrote: “For the sake of being polite and not using appropriate abusive language, the best way to describe the state of nation’s highways is to use words such as deplorable, terrible, awful, dreadful, shocking, lamentable, disgraceful, shameful and unpardonable.”
He painted a fair and polite picture of our roads, using a string of polite adjectives in order not to offend the authorities. I think it is called calling a spade a spade, there being no use pretending that a spade is not a hoe. The Guardian newspaper pointed out in its editorial of September 23, 2016, that “no tier of government has done well on matters of road construction and maintenance.” And this, the newspaper argued, has led to “..a national tragedy that does not shock anymore that scores of innocent people are killed daily in avoidable accidents on account of bad roads.”
So? The shock is not that our roads are this bad; rather it is that despite gulping billions of Naira in the annual federal and state budgets, they tend to make our rulers look like men who speak from both sides of their mouths and leave the citizens to wonder if the budgets are about spending money or blowing hot air. The federal authorities are worried stiff about the fact that the more they spend on the roads, the worse they get. This is unnatural anywhere but our country.
Their solution is build more airports and make air travel the primary travel choice of all Nigerians. Abandon the abandoned roads and hitch the waggon of our economic and social development to the aircraft. That way no one would suffer on our roads anymore; that way no more billions would be poured into the bottomless pit called federal and state roads. I always look for logic in heavy decisions of this nature because they are not taken lightly; they are products of hard-headed thinking.
In our current national situation, air travel recommends itself because air is safer than the roads. Road travellers are potential victims of armed robbers, bandits, and kidnappers. Security is an important aspect of commercial and social movements. If we all travel by air, the armed robbers, bandits, and kidnappers will certainly starve. That would be a major security problem solved. To put a finer point to it, planes are faster and can take you from point A to point B in greater comfort in the time it takes to change your engine oil or patch your expired tire.
Spare a thought for the beauty of all Nigerians travelling by air. It would be an economic leveller and ours would be the first country in the world to attain this enviable status. I cannot say for certain but I suspect this must be part of the president’s laudable plan to take 100 million out of poverty in ten years. No one who travels by air can be said to be poor, I think. We would thus discard our label as the poverty capital of the world.
The federal government’s decision to spread the wealth of the nation around with airports, airports, everywhere, and no planes in sight, is also pragmatic. Nigeria has the largest number of private jets in Africa. Some of these private jet owners can never fly home to their states or local governments for lack of airports; their people would never know that their sons are senior members of the jet age. But with airports in almost every state capital, they can spread their wings and their people can see them and duly thank the Lord for what he has done for their sons.
It would be unfair too to expect our state governors to travel by road. Ordinarily, it would be a case of misplaced priorities of the worst kind for a governor who cannot boast of one good road in his state to build an airport for his gubernatorial pleasure. Such misplaced priorities are the norm now, of course.
I also think that in deciding to build the new airports and increase the total number of them, despite the criminal under-utilisation of the existing airports, the federal authorities thought it right and proper to prepare the grounds for the take-off of the perfectly ill-advised new national carrier. The national airline would go where the private airlines would not for economic reasons.
Still, ThisDay argued: “All factors considered, the idea of using already lean resources to build extra airports makes no sense.”
The Guardian said: “Without a functional railway system, roads are the only means of movement of people and goods. And so when the roads are not in good shape as is seen all over the country, the nation’s economy is sure to be the first victim.”
Long, long ago, the Romans said that civilisation follows the road; meaning that economic development is a product of social interactions made possible only by roads. But we are standing that dictum on its head. After all, if the Romans had jets, they would have put it differently. Now, civilisation follows jet travels. It is not necessary for us to want to know in what way or ways more and more under-utilised airports would help our social and economic development. If the federal government says it is the right thing to do, then it is the right thing to do. Our obligation as good citizens are to applaud loudly. It is good to know that we are managing wealth, not poverty. However, as we embark on these new airports with foreign loans, we may be driving our country towards the Golgotha of the debt burden. None of these new airports would be completed during the tenure of President Buhari. His successor might not be impressed with a large number of airports and might determine the contracts. Abandoned projects of the future? Don’t quote me.
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