Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah has a distinctly quiet and unassuming mien. At times, she even appears almost vulnerable. But beneath this seeming vulnerability lies a steely resolve that almost borders on male chauvinism. It is the inner will to dare, the determination to succeed against all odds.
It is this iron determination that she has brought to bear on the resolution of the many troubles that has bedeviled the Nigerian Aviation sector for decades.
On assumption of office in July of 2011, Oduah rolled up her sleeves and hit the road, hopping from one airport to another to see for herself the extent of the legendary rot in the sector. From Abuja to Lagos, Kano to Calabar, Ilorin to Port Harcourt, Yola to Enugu, the experience was humbling and more than enough to make any man's broad shoulders drop in resignation. The infrastructural rot and decay from one airport to another was overwhelming, a stark testimony to decades of criminal neglect by the very people who had been saddled with the responsibility of care for the public facilities. But rather than throw up her arms in self-pity, Oduah's resolve to positively change the landscape of the Aviation industry in Nigeria became more urgent, profound and unbending.
The challenge of where to begin the rescue mission was huge as every airport terminal and facility deserved as much care and attention as the next. But the human factor, where most lives would be touched in the short term played a major role in the decision of where the salvage train would take off.
One other unsavory experience also played a major role. During the inspection/facility tour of the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano the minister and members of her entourage could hardly stand the sight and stench oozing out of the Hajj terminal. As everyone hurried out of the facility, the minister wondered aloud how Nigerians, fellow citizens, our Muslim brothers and sisters could be made to suffer such indignity for days and weeks on end waiting at such inhumane conditions before being airlifted to Saudi Arabia to perform the Holy Pilgrimage. "Yet, we expect these same pilgrims, after enduring this hellish conditions to pray for us and our nation while out there, this is inhuman and unacceptable", she declared.
It was therefore not surprising to all of us who witnessed this scene when the first contract that the minister awarded was the rehabilitation of the Kaduna and Kano Hajj terminals! Understandably, these were the first projects that were completed and commissioned by the minister. During the commissioning ceremonies, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Saad Abubakar 111 not only expressed delight at the decision of the minister to spare a thought for the plight of Muslim pilgrims who, year in, year out had to endure treacherous conditions at these camps by making their rehabilitation the priority of her ministry, but also made a case for the rehabilitation of the Sokoto Hajj terminal. Today, rehabilitation work at the Sokoto Hajj terminal has commenced and billed for commissioning sometime next year.
To be sure, the decision to commence work in Kaduna and Kano Hajj terminals was not based on the desire of the minister to go overboard to please any particular section of the country. It equally had no ethnic, tribal or religious undertone. It was purely based on a deep sense of national duty and the desire to give to fellow countrymen and women facilities that dignify their humanity.
It is also instructive that when actual reconstruction and remodeling works commenced at the main passenger terminals across the country, MAKIA, Kano took yet, another first. Today, an imposing, modern, state-of-the-art structure has emerged from the derelict building that once assaulted the psyche of airport users in that part of the country. The edifice, which will be commissioned and put to use soon, bears eloquent testimony to the desire and determination of the Aviation minister to usher in a new and exhilarating airport experience to all air travellers and all those who have any business around the airport environment throughout the length and breadth of this country.
Apart from MAKIA, Kano other airports in the Northern part of the country are equally being reconstructed and remodeled in line with the current administration's desire to give a fair deal to all air travellers across the country. Before the end of the year, the General Yakubu Gowon Airport, Jos, Yola Airport, Abuja Domestic terminal and Kaduna Airport will be commissioned alongside six others that have undergone complete reconstruction and remodeling under the first phase of the rehabilitation programme. The other six include the Port Harcourt, Enugu, Calabar and Murtala Mohammed International airports, as well as the Benin and Owerri airports. This is not forgetting the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), Lagos that was commissioned a few weeks ago. This is unprecedented in the history of the Aviation sector in Nigeria; where 11 airports are simultaneously being transformed from the 19th century structures that use to dot our airport landscapes to the 21st century architectural masterpieces that stand tall and high today at different locations in the country.
- Obi, senior assistant (Media) to the Aviation minister contributed this piece from Abuja