“The last known international flight out of South-Eastern Nigeria, prior to the Ethiopian Airlines flight [on August 24, 2013] was the one that took Ojukwu to Abidjan in 1970.”
– Bryan Chaut
On Saturday, August 24, the recently serviced Akanu Ibiam International Airport (AIIA), Enugu, received its first ever international commercial flight (Ethiopian Airlines), also a first for South-Eastern Nigeria. That single event therefore marked a cusp for the city and region! I commend the Jonathan administration for seeing this important project through.
Last year, I visited the city of Enugu twice and, with a good intra-city road network, an efficient cab service, and a booming business clime, I left with the impression that that city was ready for its next big thing. The international airport has come alive at just the right time to comprise such a big thing.
Indeed, Enugu State, the South-East and Nigeria as a whole stand to benefit a lot from AIIA. For one, the multiplier effects of AIIA will boost business and the service industry which will result in many jobs in that city and beyond.
Also, airlines pay charges to land planes at airports and, given its region-wide market, AIIA will bring in more foreign exchange into Nigeria which will be a plus for Nigeria’s economy.
In addition, planes often refuel at international airports and this will create another significant market for fuel in that part of the country. In fact, this is one more reason why we need fully functional refineries so as to maximise the gains from our crude oil especially given that foreign demand for it is falling.
Furthermore, the international airport will boost investment and jobs. More investors will be attracted to Enugu, particularly with its huge potential in coal, and its environs because of increased accessibility occasioned by AIIA whilst businesses and banks will open outlets close to or at the airport and this will create more jobs.
Again, the very fact of an international airport in Enugu means travel costs from other places in Africa, Europe and elsewhere, to the city will be reduced because of fewer transits and this will encourage more sons and daughters of Enugu and its environs to travel home more frequently.
We must equally note that AIIA is the first major Federal Government initiative completed in South-Eastern Nigeria for a long time. The implication of this is that it will help to quell the feelings of marginalisation which many South-Easterners still have and thereby boost national cohesion.
Nonetheless, what can go wrong? As is often the case in Nigeria, mismanagement and poor maintenance will turn any good project into decrepit and relics into derelicts! This must not be allowed to happen to AIIA. A National Mirror September 21, 2012 editorial lamented “Nigeria’s nagging problem of decrepit airport infrastructure” and said: “Even at the flagship Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, local carriers manage only one runway due to the woeful failure of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to fix runway lighting on the second one.”
As AIIA gathers steam, stakeholders must ensure that its infrastructure remains in good condition and regularly undertake maintenance and upgrades where necessary. Ultimately, AIIA itself should be able to generate enough revenue to guarantee its sustainable upkeep.
Another problem that AIIA should have provisions to deal with from scratch is that of power cuts. Earlier this year, a couple of incidents were reported with near-tragic landings caused by power cuts at MMIA but also at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. In the case of MMIA, it was reported that the two generators serving the airport were in disrepair.
Meantime, there are reports that some landowners have threatened to stop business endeavours at AIIA because they are still owed compensation by FAAN after their land was co-opted by the Federal Government in 2009 to expand the Enugu airport into its present status. This must be resolved in the bud so that AIIA can be off to a smooth, flying, start.
Long live the Akanu Ibiam International Airport! GOD bless Nigeria!