A few years ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria shut down the Port Harcourt International Airport to carry out what they called repairs, or was it renovation?
It was supposed to be an exercise for a few weeks, but it took more than an entire year.
Flights were diverted to an airport in the city at great cost to travellers, but the so-called renovation took forever.
The Port Harcourt airport became a grazing field for cows, at other times, a vehicle-driving field, and for more than one year, travel to Port Harcourt, one of Nigeria’s most strategic cities was a nightmare.
Each time the Nigerian government talks about fixing the airports, using the words, renovation, rehabilitation or reform, it is better to be cynical.
The Sam Mbakwe Airport in Owerri, for example, was once touted as a major hub in the South East, and government spent so much money turning it into an international cargo airport for the East, but that same airport soon became flooded during the rainy season and planes could no longer land.
Both the Port Harcourt and Owerri airports are currently in a permanent state of renovation.
The lives of those who wanted to renovate them at any level whatsoever are ironically and scandalously, imaginably better renovated.
The airports failed, the managers smiled to the banks. In those two airports, travellers were put through enormous strain because the entire airports or sections had to be shut down.
But the people, expectant as they were had no choice in the matter. The Nigerian government is so powerful; the people are helpless.
The same government the people elect with their votes punishes them unjustly. The people themselves behave as if they are in bondage.
This was what happened in particular when the Port Harcourt Airport was being renovated. Travellers were abused.
Airlines subjected them to enormous indignity. Businesses suffered. Government failed to keep its promise.
The airlines and their staff even became arrogant, failing to realize they were victims too.
They treated customers shabbily and there was no way anyone could blame them when government itself was uncaring.
Looked at differently, the biggest problem is not necessarily the politicians and their appointees who sashay in and out of power, but the civil servants who run the engine room of government and who over the years have perfected a culture of graft and incompetence.
They look the other way when politicians dismantle the rules, often times out of sheer cruelty and for the better part, the political leaders are guided to do so by the civil servants.
Which department of government is responsible for the maintenance of airports? The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
I believe everybody in that agency should be lined up and caned publicly and investigated according to the law.
Should they have any stories to tell about the poor state of Nigerian airports, despite the enormous amounts that are budgeted yearly, they should tell us as each stroke of the cane descends on their buttocks.
I don’t consider corporal punishment a tool of governance, so I speak metaphorically, but the rot in the aviation section is so terrible, a feeling of outrage commands something extra-ordinary.
Weigh that against the plane crashes, loss of lives, and the agony of air travel just because some incompetents have had to superintend over Nigeria’s aviation sector.
I am this outraged because a sad story is about to repeat itself.
The Federal Government of Nigeria is proposing to shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, beginning March 8, for six weeks: to build a second runway and to carry out renovations.
During the period, flights will be diverted to Kaduna Airport and passengers will be required to travel by rail or road to Abuja.
The excuse is that the runway in Abuja is almost collapsing. The life span of a runway is 20 years and this particular runway in Abuja has been there for 34 years.
Politicians come and go but one significant fellow has suddenly woken up in either the FAAN or the Ministry of Aviation and a proposal has been submitted for renovation.
And that proposal is now causing so much commotion.
All the characters responsible for this costly neglect and delay should be lined up and sanctioned, and that should include a thorough investigation into the possibility of this “new” project having being proposed, budgeted for and cash-backed before now.
At what point did it occur to FAAN that the airport needs a second runway, and who is the brain behind the hair-brained proposal that is now before the public?
We have been told that for six weeks, flights will be diverted to the Kaduna airport.
The Minister of State for Aviation (by the way, who is the Minister of Aviation?) has been quoted saying he wants “knowledge” as to how this can be managed.
The Ministry has also summoned a meeting of stakeholders after taking the decision. This has been a classic case of acting before thinking, making it all appear ridiculous.