Closure of Abuja Airport Spurs Public Criticism in Nigeria

Since last Wednesday (8 March), Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIAA) is completely shut down for a period of six weeks to rebuild its ruined runway. Public protests are mounting, accusing the government of pursuing a failed aviation policy.

Currently, there is no air traffic at Nigeria’s capital airport
Currently, there is no air traffic at Nigeria’s capital airport

The 42-day closure of the Nigerian capital’s only airport is seen by local media as result of political blindness, shortcomings in decision-making and lack of foresight. In countless comments they remind that efforts taken several years ago for constructing a second runway, this way doubling Abuja Airport’s capacity, had ended in a fiasco. The main problem that led to the axing of the project was an enormous price increase due to hugely inflated construction contracts. The public outrage that followed the contract scandal put immense pressure on politicians, inducing them to give up the enlargement of the airport’s infrastructure, sticking to the single runway solution.

Point of total collapse
Today, at least some government members seem to have become wiser, like Nigeria’s Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi. Opting for infrastructural standstill not only in Abuja but in Nigeria’s airport landscape in general was a huge mistake, he told the media. Turning to Nnamdi Azikiwe International the politician spoke of a “national shame” that the sole airport for the nation’s capital is equipped with only a single runway. The official went on to say: “We continued to use it without maintenance until this moment whereas it is at the point of total collapse after 34 years in operation without major maintenance.”
An honest ministerial statement, evidencing long-standing political shortcomings in the country’s aviation policy.

LH aircraft got damaged
The potholes covering the entire runway posed a severe safety risk for airlines operating to Abuja until its closure last Wednesday. The last incident happened on 23 January, when a Lufthansa jetliner suffered a landing gear damage while landing, causing a three-day grounding of the aircraft.
Meanwhile the German carrier, Air France, British Airways and some others have suspended their services to northern Nigeria at least for the period of maintenance work at Abuja International. They turned down an offer by the country’s aviation authority to deviate their flights to Kaduna Airport during the coming weeks, in contrast to some local African carriers that accepted operating at Kaduna until the reopening of Abuja.  
BA, AF, LH and others argue that diversions lead to considerable inconvenience not only for travelers but also for cargo flows, although both airports are just 200 kilometers distant. However, transiting between both places by either road or rail needs something like six hours, with the national paper Vanguard speaking of “almost the entire day.” 

Terrorist warning for Abuja-Kaduna corridor
Moreover, the security situation around Kaduna is seen as problematic, there are always abductions. This goes along with widespread fear that, besides the high rate of accidents, kidnappings and highway robberies along the Kaduna – Abuja Expressway, terrorists might find that corridor attractive to shift their focus to, warns Vanguard. Police and other law enforcement agents announced they would provide sufficient security, but it remains to be seen how effective their measures will be. 

Negative economic impact expected
Experts forecast that the closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International will also harm the already weakening Nigerian economy. Business people based in the country’s largest city Lagos, are now forced to take a ten or more hour car ride to Abuja to get there or take a detour via Kaduna by air. Concludes Nigeria’s daily Vanguard: “Abuja is set to suffer a great social-economic setback as a result of the myopia, corruption and incompetence of our leaders. Our advice for all who have no compelling reason to travel to Abuja during the six weeks is to stay away.”

Heiner Siegmund

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