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Reuben Abati: Before Abuja Airport Shut Down



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. The international airlines are insisting that they find this kind of thinking inconvenient. Truly so: Local airline operators are not excited either.  The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) and the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) are protesting. Common sense, a scarce commodity at this time, should have dictated that a meeting of stakeholders should have been held before the decision was taken. But the arrogant position-holders took the decision first and then decided to invite the stakeholders as an after-thought.  Ask these questions: is there an ulterior motive?  Ignore common sense and present the public with a fait accompli? Is that their plan? Is politics, in the shape of further Northernization involved? And why? Make Kaduna a new hub? Shift aviation travel further North? The failure to maintain runways and observe best practices is a reflection of the Nigerian problem: our national nonsense. Besides, Nigeria is forever a victim of last minute decisions. We remember to think when it appears too late to do so.  Conspiracy theories are thus enabled when those who should act rightly behave as if they are busy thinking with their orifices.

Get it: The decision to shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja and move traffic to the Kaduna airport for six weeks has not been properly thought through. Poor thinking is the enemy of good governance. There is no guarantee to start with, that the renovation and rehabilitation can be completed in six weeks. Remember Port Harcourt and Owerri. We have been told nevertheless, that this is a good decision. But the timing is unwise. We are moving passengers to Kaduna at a time that same state and city is in turmoil. Thousands are being slaughtered daily in Southern Kaduna. The crisis has both religious and ethnic undertones. And now we are moving more Nigerians to the North, so they can get killed at the airport on or their way to Abuja? Who in his or her right senses would like to travel through Kaduna at this time?

A standard travel advisory should be: travel through Kaduna at your own risk and commit possible suicide. And to this: let no paid vuvuzela tell me the roads are safe and that the rail line to Abuja does not pass through Southern Kaduna.  Also consider this: Government says it will provide buses. Who will bear the cost? Traveling from wherever to Kaduna to reach Abuja is likely to be more costly in every sense. Will the airlines bear the cost? Or the already aggrieved travellers will be subjected to extra cost and pain?  Foreign airliners have already rejected the Kaduna airport. It is by every international standard a poor airport. It can’t even accommodate a crowd.  Why would government subject travellers to obvious chaos and behave as if it does not matter. Copy this:

       “The Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, however, said total closure of the Abuja airport runway was inevitable, judging from the worrisome level of dilapidation…. (I see)

    The minister assured of adequate security of travellers on transit by road from Abuja to Kaduna and vice versa, adding that the Ministry of Defence, the Nigeria Police, National Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Directorate of State Security and other agencies will provide cover for airlines and passengers. (Really?)

     “We’ll increase the number of security personnel around Kaduna Metropolis; we’ll have traffic officials in every village and intersection. There’ll be members of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), fire fighters and ambulances at certain strategic positions. Police and the Air Force are to provide aerial patrols, complemented by ground police. (Bribery and extortion loading…)

      There will be intelligence gathering. There will be bus coaches, train services, specialised car hire services and helicopter shuttles from private operators. But government will provide shuttles for passengers,” he assured. (Talk is cheap, truly)

       This is precisely why the Ministry of Aviation should reconsider its stand. Stakeholders including foreign airlines should be carried along before any further step is taken and that has to be in line with international best practices. Everybody involved should admit that we are dealing with a Nigerian crisis. Nigerians who travel by air don’t deserve to be punished.  They have suffered enough already. The airlines can’t even get enough aviation fuel in Abuja, not to talk of Kaduna.

Let no one forget this: Abuja is a strategic city. Those who travel there do so with a purpose. It is the city of adventurers not settlers. It is the city of the Federal Government. People go there to sort out government matters including contracts and other matters.  Shutting down the Abuja airport is like shutting down the city, and perhaps the entire country. The Ministry of Aviation makes it sound as if this is inevitable, but we must tell them, and tell them again, that the Kaduna airport is not ready and to repeat the Port Harcourt experience in Abuja would be sad and counter-productive. It is not for nothing that the international airlines are already protesting that they don’t want to go to Kaduna. The argument about fixing the runway to make it safer is okay, and we all know why nothing is ever properly maintained in this country, and why projects of six weeks end up taking one year, and more, so don’t tell me the obvious, but government decisions no matter how well-meaning, should be governed by good thinking.  A mismanaged renovation of the Abuja airport could result in months of avoidable agony and disaster for the Nigerian economy.



    January 10, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    ? He has come again ? he has come again.

  2. Weezy

    January 10, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    He has a point. Actually several points. The port harcourt experience is disturbing, and I can only hope that the Abuja airport is not a repeat. At the same time, I can understand shutting down the airport IF and only IF it will be reopened within the time period the government has given. This will be a huge test for the Buhari administration. If they expand and update facilities at the airport in a timely manner, it will be an accomplishment.

  3. Myfathersdaughter

    January 10, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    He’s stating the facts as they are. This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Why would government take a decision before inviting stakeholders? Upon which facts and considerations did we base the 6 weeks project timeframe? Out of thin air? Our president must feel very proud of these “intelligent” ministers who took him all of 8 months to appoint!

  4. Jess

    January 10, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    I remember when they shut down the local airport in Abuja for renovation, it was never opened till today i.e like 4 years ago. So…..

  5. Ajala & Foodie

    January 10, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    We don’t need Reuben Abati to state facts we are well aware of. Do these lunatics think we are such dunce that stating facts now wins them favor with us? Or do they think that makes them appear that they have the best interest of us and the country at large at heart? I saw the article written by the other clown yesterday posted on BN and people clamoring that what he is saying is the truth. Please spear me!!!! the average Nigerian lives this truth EVERYDAY so are in a better position to know first hand what the issues are. Unlike them, we don’t only see them (said problems), we also live and breathe them on a daily basis.

    So yea, I will not bother dwelling on the obvious I.e the purpose of both writeups because anyone and everyone can do that and we all already do it anyway. We need problem solvers, people that not only have verbal solutions but have the physical and mental capability to put proffered solutions in place. Both Misters Abati and Omokri have had opportunities to provide not just mouth service to their over stated “causes” but have nothing to show of said opportunities. Like the saying goes, “opportunity comes but once” (well except in Nigeria, where we keep recycling politicians that have proven they don’t not have our best interest at heart and her incapable of making intelligent decisions that even the blind can see makes no sense). We are not gullible to think that because you put pen to paper to state the very obvious problems we face as a country equals intelligence because it does NOT!!!! So kindly spear us the constant analysis, write-ups and utter nonesense disguised as intelligent “rhetorics” . I know some may still fall for this rubbish but I want to believe many are becoming smart and learning to smell the cow dung with these individuals.

    • Too much sense

      January 10, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      You are a pitiful soul. As an enterpreneur who criss crosses nigeria to create employment and spur business activities in various parts of the country, I read this article and it only reminded me to complete an impact assessment for my business.
      I have to ship customer orders nationwide and Abuja is a major destination for online orders. Perhaps you are a daft APC supporter void of any brain cells. Reuben Abati has written a brilliant article highlighting the risks associated with executing a project that has major impacts on the economic activities in the region.

      Where do you expect passengers on British Airways, airfrance, lufthansa, KLM, emirates, Qatar air and others to travel to? This same Kaduna airport? The same highway in which a minister died from a road accident.
      They didnt plan but proceeded with a decision that will impact the policy center of the nation. People like you are the reasons why Nigeria can never prosper.


    • Lo

      January 11, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      What’s the alternative though? To continue using the same unsafe runway until a terrible accident happens?? You’re calling this article ‘brilliant’ but it offers no productive and workable solutions to what Abati admits is a very serious problem. Carrying out more consultations and enquiries will only waste more time, worsen the damage, delay the inevitable, and possibly result in an accident that could cost precious lives. FYI, most of the foreign airlines you mentioned have stopped using Abuja airport already because of the unsafe runway. Fixing things now, despite the huge inconvenience, is the only reasonable way to go.

    • Lo

      January 11, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      *edit* Ok I was wrong, most of those airlines still use the airport but I still think it’s best to go ahead with the repairs now. I know there will be a huge negative impact on businesses and individuals as most of the international airlines will not want to use Kaduna airport either in the interim for obvious reasons, and that’s fair enough. The pressure should now be on the ministry to ensure that the work on the runway is completed to a high standard and on time.

    • naya

      January 12, 2017 at 12:50 am

      he’s like his Muslim and Northern brothers who have no human brain but a brain of a cow, this pple are nt business oriented, all they kW is politics, politics dat they operate with no or little education or knowledge of what being a leader is. Dat is why our so called cow president Buhari and his cow ministers are taking us backwards. all in d name of religion,sentiment and culture.

    • Ajala & Foodie

      January 12, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      @ Too much sense, so what makes Mr. Abati’s write up intelligent? That he is able to write about risks/problems you and I (I.e average Nigerians) both see and are aware of? Well, if that’s your idea of intelligence then yes I will rather be labeled “daft” by the likes of you. That someone is stating the obvious does not equal intelligence in my book. You will not consider someone intelligent for stating the sky is blue now… would you???? And you think I am the “daft” ?one or the one driven by some partisan none sense??
      You point out the effect these has your business so I want to believe that maybe there is an emotional filter that stopped you from objectively reading my response. Would you rather have someone sit with you lamenting over your problems or have someone provide solution to your problems???I.e a way to ensure that your business is not affected. That Reuben Abati and his likes see the problem I repeat does not make them intelligent because even the blind is well aware of said problems. We need problem solvers not problem “reiterators”!!!!! Like I said in my earlier write up, it obvious this government like the past ones are incapable of making decisions with the best interest of the average citizen at heart. Nevertheless, enough of the silly analysis (which is all a political ploy anyway). We need problem solvers if you and the many that liked your comments cannnot see or understand that, then like I have said on this platform many times, we only have what we deserve!!!!

      P.S: I NEVER voted Buhari or Jonathan and I will consider myself polictically neutral considering the options we have in our country, recycling individuals that don’t have our best interest at heart is of no interest to me. Lastly, if you disagree with a point of view you can state you perspective without having to result to insults and name calling, that is petty and immature.

    • Ajala & Foodie

      January 11, 2017 at 12:00 am

      ****spare me NOT spear me******

    • John

      January 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      @Ajala & Foodie.
      If you have a personal axe to grind with the two persons you referenced, I would suggest you take that elsewhere, and spare us your bile-laden rant.
      I think you are rather toxic and extremely boring. We should actually heed your plea and “spear” you, since it is obvious you are begging to be put out of your misery.

  6. Debs

    January 10, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    Reuben…pls what do you suggest that the govt do? They shd not rehabilate the Abuja airport and when crashes begin you crucify the govt. Or shd they have used minna airport which is smaller. or what exactly?..If they didnt carry stakeholders along then thats bad of the reps of govt and i will only admonish that the govt keeps to its word by fixing the runaway on time and also provide security coz yes he has a piont i agree with in saying kaduna is boiling right now.

  7. Silent majority

    January 10, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Reuben himself says the runways is 34 years old and runways are meant to last 20 years.
    Whats exactly should the ministry/Faan do when there is a clear and present danger. If the airport runway is left as is there will be a crash during landing or takeoff; its only a matter of time. You will be the first person to tell us how we should have closed the airport and flown out of kaduna to save lives. This problem started long before now and we are in crisis mode as we speak. If you have a better airport to fly out of please recommend it so we can fly from there.

    Did you attend the stakeholders meeting? I did and the minister took his time to explain every possible outcome. the truth is we have no choice. You can stick your head in the sand but sooner than later there will be a catastrophe at Abuja airport and then it will be too late for you to tell us Abuja airport should have been closed down.

  8. nnenne

    January 10, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    As for me and my family, we are not using Kaduna Airport! !!
    Once beaten, twice shy! !!
    Good luck to all of you.

  9. Lala

    January 10, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    Why didn’t Abati tell his boss, Goodluck Jonathan to repair the runway in his time? Wasn’t FFK (Fanikayode) a one time minister of Aviation or head of FAAN?

    FFK, Reno Omokri and Abati, you all had the chance to do something as opposed to empty talk but you did nothing. So, take a seat please. I am not saying what Abati said is wrong but he once had the president’s ear, why did he not push for the rapairs or write about it then?

  10. John

    January 11, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Are there any guarantees the armed, dangerous and constantly menacing ‘Fulani herdsmen’ won’t make the lives of those travelers now forced into commuting between Abuja and Kaduna during the renovation a living hell ? Or will the government, as usual, abandon ‘common’ air travelers to run the gauntlet? Of course, the rich and highly placed can afford the security of traveling in the relative safety of their bullet~proofed automobile. Will there be assured regular road patrols by the army and security services during the period? We all know government doesn’t give one brass kobo what happens to ordinary citizens but there are foreigners to contend with this time around. I am not implying that foreigners lives matter more, but it will only worsen our poor security rating when the herdsmen begin mounting road blocks and kidnapping visiting foreigners. Also, that stretch of highway, Abuja~Kaduna, is has gained notoriety over time for recording a rather high attrition rate in road accidents. Have we planned/looked into ways or regulating vehicular traffic during the period?

  11. fixnigeriaseries

    January 11, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    I’m sorry, but articles like this make me sick. Every Nigerian, his dog, and his dog’s 2-month old puppy knows that shutting down the Abuja airport for any extended period of time is a bad idea. We don’t need a renegade trying to reinvent himself after a shoddy political outing to tell us this. The article would have even made sense if he had spent more time documenting viable alternatives to the planned move. And the pitiful commenters inflicted with selective amnesia can miss us with the “this article makes sense” silliness. What article does not make sense, when Nigerians have decided to break their two front legs by rehashing recycled issues every other month and never moving on to execute any solution? Wo, if you guys don’t have any solutions to provide, abeg have some seats.

  12. Chiomah

    January 13, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    He has made some valid points! How are we sure the 6 weeks time line will be kept. Like someone mentioned today on Channels TV it would have been better to repair the Abuja- Minna road and make Minna a Hub for the local fights only as Minna is much closer to Abuja that Kaduna, Then all Int’l flights go through Lagos and other existing Int’l airports. The Kaduna idea is not the smartest one and seems like a strategy to just upgrade KD airport into Int’l status (which in itself is not a bad idea as Kano Int’l airport is nothing to write home about and the North would benefit from another Int’l airport). However at what cost? Has anyone done a proper analysis of the cost and all the risk involved by diverting all travel via Kaduna? Has a proper risk analysis been done? instead a stakeholders meting was called after decisions were made. The Abj-Kd train they are talking about is only 3 carriages long and just last week I hear it stopped on the tracks. Nigeria is just an interesting country. I wrote a paper on Nigeria Airways and I just remember how this same poor attitude led to the crumbling of our National carrier. It is well! (what I say when things are just beyond me!)

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