Akanu Ibiam Int’l Airport Enugu: The Realities, Politics And New Hope

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Akanu Ibiam Int’l Airport Enugu: The Realities, Politics And New Hope

Post by Hassan » Tue Oct 29, 2019 1:20 pm

Before 2007, there appeared to be a deliberate attempt to prevent the people of the Southeast a direct access to the outside world. This could be attributed to the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Thus, the absence of a seaport or an international airport in the zone was seen as a means of keeping an eagle’s eye on the region.

There was also what some interpreted as politics of economic rivalry as the existence of a functional airport or seaport in the region would have far-reaching implications for the economy of the Southwest, particularly Lagos State, as the Igbo are predominantly traders and importers. It is estimated that about 75 per cent of cargo containers that arrive at the Lagos Port and 55 per cent containers that arrive at the Onne Port end up in the Southeast.

Although an international airport has always been one of the major demands on every government right from the campaigns period, but successive governments had kept making promises, and all efforts at establishing an international airport in the zone were politicised. It took the election of the late President Musa Yar’Adua and the official visit to him in July 2007 by the Southeast Senate Caucus led by former Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu to secure the approval of an international airport for the region.

Yar’Adua made good his promise during the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of November 13, 2007 when the decision was formalised and announced at the end of the FEC meeting by the then Minister of Transportation, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke.
There was, however, no funds to start work, hence the decision of the Enugu Caucus of the National Assembly to pool N2 billion into the 2008 Budget for the project. But the project still did not take off.

In a reminder letter to President Yar’Adua dated March 20, 2009, Senator Ekweremadu lamented: “Your Excellency may wish to recall that sometime in July 2007, I led a delegation of Southeast Senators to discuss with you, among other things, the upgrading of Enugu Airport to an international status. You may recall also that you expressed surprise that there is no International Airport in the whole of Southeast and graciously directed the then Minister of Transport, Mrs Dizeani Madueke.

“However, nearly two years after, no step has been taken to provide facilities that will enable international flights to land and take off at the airport.

“In 2008, National Assembly members from Enugu State sacrificed various sums due to their constituencies for projects in an effort to appropriate sufficient fund in the Federal budget for the upgrading of facilities at the Enugu Airport. Unfortunately, that appropriated fund was not implemented and the monies were returned to the Federal Government.

“Your Excellency may wish to note that this unfortunate circumstance was in spite of the fact that all due process procurement activities had been completed with a due process certificate issued on December 1, 2008. I attach herewith the said due process certificate for your ease of reference.

“In the 2009 Federal budget, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) made a provision of N1billion for the upgrading of facilities at the airport. Furthermore, the National Assembly members from Enugu State appropriated the sum of N2 billion due to them for their constituency projects into the said budget for upgrading of the Enugu Airport.

“But in spite of your directive for the upgrading and the various budgetary provisions made for that purpose, no action has been taken by the Ministry of Aviation to give effect to Your Excellency’s directive.

“I am, therefore, appealing to Your Excellency to kindly direct the Minister of Aviation to take appropriate action to upgrade the facilities in Enugu International Airport. As stated earlier, sufficient budgetary provisions have been made for this exercise in the 2009 Federal Budget”.

Also governors of the Southeast met with Yar’Adua on Wednesday, June 3, 2009 to lend support to the efforts of the Southeast NASS Caucus. The delegation comprised Anambra’s Peter Obi, Abia’s Theodore Orji, Ebonyi’s Martin Elechi, Enugu’s Sullivan Chime; and Imo’s Ikedi Ohakim.

The contract for the project was eventually awarded to the tune of N4.13 billion in 2009. But it appeared the then Minister of Aviation under Yar’Adua, Babatunde Omotoba, was working at variance with the administration.

During the flag-off of the project at Enugu Airport, Omotoba said: “I cannot confirm that Enugu Airport has become an international airport. We have four international airports, Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt, but we have other airports that have started showing signs of strong traffic. That is Calabar, Enugu, Kaduna and Benin, and government is determined to ensure that available systems in the airports meet up with relevant standards.”

He added that the contract was primarily to rehabilitate and upgrade facilities in the airport to meet aviation safety standard, as well as to make provision for heavier aircraft. This did not go down well with the region.

Sensing possible sabotage, the Southeast NASS members spearheaded by Ekweremadu lobbied and ensured that Mrs Fidelia Njeze was made Aviation Minister during the cabinet reshuffle by Jonathan after Yar’Adua’s demise in 2010.

Working in concert with the NASS agenda also, Mrs Njeze pushed for the gazetting of the airport as an international facility vide FEC approval at its October 19, 2010 meeting.

In addition to gazetting the airport, the Jonathan administration and Stella Oduah as minister of aviation awarded a reviewed contract to bring the total cost to about N10.03 billion. With considerable work done after the closure, the airport was reopened and received the first international commercial flight (Ethiopia Airline) on August 24, 2013.

There have, however, been complaints over the non-completion of work and the quality of work already done. Of greatest worry was the runway and absence of night landing equipment due to poor funding of the project. This prevented many international airlines from plying the lucrative route.

Experts had particularly faulted the engineering design of the runway, which makes them easily susceptible to flooding, thus worsening the wear and tear.

They argued that asphalt does not go hand-in-hand with water. These discouraged international airliners, the Ethiopian Airline, from flying the airport

The Muhammadu Buhari administration first indicated plans to close the airport in May 2019. Minister of State Aviation, Hadi Sirika, listed some of the reasons for the planned shutdown of the airport to include the bad condition of the runway, the landing aids, a market, a broadcasting station mast, free trade zone, among others.

Sirika said that the airport would be closed down until the state government removed all the encumbrances posing threat to safe flight operations at the airport.

This too was widely received in the Southeast as a strategy by the Federal Government to return the region to the era it did not enjoy a direct access to the rest of the world. But the Enugu State government acted swiftly to remove the observed encumbrances.

Nevertheless, the airport was finally shut in August this year. The authorities said that even Air Peace, which was about the only airliner flying the aviation facility, had given up due to the high risk involved.

Considering the importance of the airport to the people of the Southeast, especially the approaching Yuletide, the governors of the Southeast invited the Minister of Aviation to a meeting in Enugu where it was agreed that all hands would be on deck to ensure the airport was reopened in December.

A vexed issue in the meeting with the minister was the issue of the contractor to handle the project. While the Federal Government was rooting for a certain contractor, the governors wanted Julius Berger Plc.

However, two months after the closure of the airport, work is yet to commence on the project, thus prompting a motion moved by the Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, on behalf of over 30 other lawmakers, mainly from the Southeast, calling for President Buhari’s special intervention on the airport.

A delegation of Southeast governors and leaders also visited Aso Rock where the President told the delegation that he had already approved the N10 billion ahead of their coming. This, many said, showed that President Buhari was very concerned and committed to bringing Southeast’s elusive quest for a truly international airport to a happy end.

With the release of N10 billion, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has promised to temporarily relocate his office to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport to directly supervise the rehabilitation of the airport by April 2020 to become the best in the country.

As the Southeast awaits with bated breathe, many believe that there is finally not only a light at the end of the tunnel, but indeed a consummation of all the efforts that dated back to 2007, which might open a new vista in APC and President Buhari’s perception in the Southeast. However, only April will tell.
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