By Chukwuemeka Chimerue
News went viral last Friday about a planned shutting down and/or downgrading of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, from its international status which was recently granted during the immediate past administration, to a local airport, by the incumbent government, over issues of concerns bordering on safe taking-off or landing of aircraft.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, hinged Federal Government’s decision to shutdown the only international airport in the South East on some minor challenges which can easily be fixed or amended. For example, he outlined the presence of a state radio mast on the flight path of airlines that threatens the safety of incoming aircraft, the siting of a Free Trade Zone(FTZ) at the end of the runway, as well as incessant bird strikes affecting airlines which according to him, was occasioned by the presence of an abattoir situated close to the runway.
According to the minister, for the interest of airline operators as well as the safety of aircraft and passengers, the Enugu Airport might have to be closed down. “I have told the governor that we have to move the market, FTZ, and take the radio mast away so that we can move in and fix things and clear the runway so that we can improve on safety and save lives,” he added.
However, as plausible as these concerns raised by the honourable minister were, the Igbo habour some troubling fears while sensing some motives behind this move by the Federal government. There had been growing concerns and perception that successive Nigerian governments, particularly under the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that there exist a well thought out plan to strangle and/or frustrate the economic base of the Igbos. The Igbo are not unaware of the possible authors behind this script of “give them no Seaports, no railways, do not rehabilitate their roads, downgrade their only international airport to local or motor park to frustrate Ndigbo economically.” And it seems this is exactly what is playing out in disguise.
The minister claimed that he informed the Enugu state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, concerning the deteriorating state of the airport and its runway and how best to tackle the issues but everyone knows that the aviation sector is one of the 65-68 items on the Exclusive List in the fraudulent Nigerian Constitution which makes the Federal government responsible in the renovation and maintenance of airports in Nigeria. If that is the case, why is the minister now telling the governor what to do and why is the governor failing to take responsibility, assuming there was some kind of arrangement between States and FG to take care of projects like that?
The staggering reality is: In their continued blind oppression of the Igbos, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport was intentionally denied a whole lot of facilities and federal support, so that later, it could be downgraded to a local status. Why couldn’t the government upgrade the Airport to meet the standards of Muritala Mohammed and Nnamdi Azikiwe Airports in Lagos and Abuja respectively?
Nearly every airport in the North has been upgraded to international status with no incident. Not one in the entire Eastern Region (South East/South South) is fit for even local operations, let alone international. International Airlines have been taxed out of the Eastern routes, especially Enugu, leaving only Ethiopian Airlines with the burden of integrity to continue still they are about to be kicked out in the guise of so-called temporal shutdown for upgrade with no single guarantee that the international airlines will be allowed to use the airport.
Recently, the Nigerian government launched some kind of partnership with the Chinese government to build a dry port in Ibadan to enable ease the pressure on Lagos seaports. About 75-80 percent of these port users are from the East. Many of them who haven’t been forced to relocate their businesses to Lagos still operate from the East.
In the East – From Imo to Rivers to Akwa Ibom to Delta to Anambra States, there are naturally deep waters, deep enough to take any size of ship, especially the Rivers port. But the channels that lead to these deep waters from the ocean are very narrow. Rather than spend money to dredge them and encourage ships to use those ports, the Federal government has chosen to spend even more money to establish dry ports in places like Kaduna, et al, where easterners who do business in the East and parts of the South will find it extremely difficult to do business from. This is very absurd, subjugating and frustrating.
As at 2016, Lagos ports complex claimed about 97 percent of all containers berthed in Nigeria, whilst Rivers ports had lost nearly 75 percent of the ships that usually patronized it due to heavy taxation and lack of incentives from the Federal Government. In the same 2016, Lagos International Airport accounted for 69.1% of all international passengers and about 90.5% of all cargos. Imagine what the situation is now. The the oppression and marginalization against the Igbos continues unabated.
Now, let’s tackle the issue of incessant bird strikes affecting the airlines as one of the reasons the minister talked about. We understand that safety is key, however, the listed problems are not rocket science for any serious government to fix. Since the problems have been identified, why not solve them rather than opt for an outright downgrade of the airport or are those things rocket science? Why does it appear that anything to subdue the Igbos gives them orgasm? Why will an airport be shutdown because of an abbatoir and bird strikes which can readily be fixed? Do you know that even the most advanced airports still record bird strikes occassionally?
Hardly a week goes by without a plane somewhere in the United States making an emergency landing after hitting birds. As these incidents reach record levels, airports are coming up with increasingly imaginative ways of combating them. Every airport in the US, and many more across the world, use pyrotechnics daily to drive the birds away. Similarly, a population of Canada geese used to live between the two runways at Salt Lake City. “Not any more,” says Gib Rokich, who oversees the airport’s wildlife programme, due to a system of egg addling.
“The goose is scared from the nest and the eggs are addled or oiled pretty much in place by picking each egg up individually and shaking them or submerging them in vegetable oil. The goose continues to sit on them but they never have a successful hatch. If she lays 10 goslings, and five survive into adulthood, then they will want to come back to the same location to nest, so you can see how it can multiply. After four years, we broke the cycle, so we still get the occasional one but they’re not established any more.”
Thirdly, eliminating vegetation removes a food source for birds and deters them from settling. That is why instead of downgrading the airport, the market trade zone and the abbatoir should be relocated as the Enugu State government has just directed. The bottom line is: bird strikes occur everywhere and the solution is not to downgrade. When it is downgraded, will it stop bird strike or solve other problems listed?
Finally, the Igbo leaders and well-meaning individuals in Igboland must now jump down from their high horses and get ready for war – it is a different kind of war. It’s called ‘war of economic emasculation.’ We can beat them to it and take back our motherland from the rusting shackles of colonial bondage. All hands must be on deck to confront and tackle this obnoxious affront against the Igbo nation. These bloodsuckers won’t stop until they get a taste of our resolve. Join the movement. The time is now!