The Akanu Ibiam Airport is one of Nigeria’s five international airports. For years, it has been in a sorry state, which has led to its closure. CHRIS OJI examines the politics of this project, which is expected to be delivered before Christmas
IT is an international airport. But until recently, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu had a major market as a neighbor. There was also an abattoir around it. Activities in the two places attracted birds. There were also a number of buildings that should not be near an airport of international status.
The poor state of the airport made Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika threaten to downgrade its status. After the threat, Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi relocated the market and dismantled the radio mast said to be interfering with flight communications.
But more facilities are needed to ensure full operation of international flights from the airport. Now the airport is closed.
Businessmen and other passengers who used the airport until its closure on August 24 are not smiling. Now, they have to operate through the Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, Imo State. Only Ethiopian Airlines is approved to operate an international flight from the airport.
South easterners were against the closure and claimed it was another subtle way of shutting out the zone economically. A meeting between Sirika and the Southeast governors in Enugu calmed down nerves.
The minister in May rustled feathers when he announced the Federal Government’s plan to close the airport.
Aside the presence of a market near the airport, which attracts birds and promotes bird-strikes, the minister also complained about the presence of a wrongly-placed radio mast, which interferes with flight communications, as well as the deplorable state of the runway.
Prior to the development, there was a near plane crash as a result of some birds from the abattoirs of the nearby market that flew into one of the engines of the plane. But for the dexterity and experience of the pilot, the country would have lost a generation of Nigerian politicians who were on that flight.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), through its Corporate Affairs Manager Mrs Henrietta Yakubu, did not give the possible date of resumption of operations, and this was what worried users of the airport and stakeholders in the Southeast.
The latest closure is the second time the airport is being closed for work. The first closure of the Enugu Airport in 2010 for the first phase of the expansion of the runway lasted between February 10 and December 16.
After the meeting with the Southeast governors on August 31, the minister said: “Indeed, for us at the centre in this federating country, we take the city of Enugu extremely important because what Enugu is to the South East is what Kaduna, for example, is to the North or Ibadan to the South West.
So contemplating to close down the runway in the heart of the Southeastern part of the country, very mobile, very enterprising people, it’s not done without complete respect and regard to the activities around this centre; it was purely based on safety to ensure that people that are flying into the airport do so safely. This airport is one of the five International Airports that we have, I want to assure you that we will take all the seriousness that it deserves, and we should be able to deliver this project all things being equal before Christmas.
“We are conscious and aware of the hardships that you might go through but I believe it is worth it in the interest of safety and the committee that has been formed will discuss the palliative and we will also discuss the arrangement, planning.”
The Southeast governors through their chairman, Governor Dave Umahi, said: “We acknowledge the safety reasons given to us by the Hon Minister of Aviation Senator Hadi Sirika for the closure of Enugu Airport. It’s a matter of need to save the lives of our people, the deterioration went for a long time but the status is such in a deplorable situation that we have to close it to save the lives of our people and we acknowledge his measures and we are very satisfied with his passion and his readiness to uplift the airport. Hon Minister of Aviation has assured us that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport will be reconstructed to meet the Abuja International Airport standard, the runway shall be reconstructed and extended, and the landing equipment shall be replaced with a better night landing light installation and he has assured that the work will go on day and night and it must be completed before December 2019.
Other works like the cargo section, an extension of the tarmac, buildings that were damaged by rainstorm etc are also in the package. He has assured us also that two sets of contractors are pinned down for any of them to be used like Julius Berger as we requested and PW but in the weeks ahead we will be asking him that we have a choice of Julius Berger.
“Palliative measures are being arranged and the Southeast governors will have a committee with Minister of Aviation and Minister of Works to discuss on the palliative measures.
“We are very committed as Southeast governors for the safety of pour people, for the convenience of our people to ease all inconveniences and these we are going to do. Some states have already started and some states will also follow. And in the next one week we will totally roll out our palliative measures and we assure our people of their safety.”
The Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, where most of the flights are being diverted, is being given a facelift.