8 May 2014

Nigeria: Don't Abandon Airports' Facelifts


BARELY three months after the former Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, was relieved of her post over the armoured vehicles contract scandal, worrisome reports have it that work on some of the airports has stalled over lack of payment to contractors.

The former Minister had embarked upon an ambitious upgrade of no less than fourteen airports nationwide as part of her ministry's contribution to the transformation agenda of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

For the first time since the end of the civil war, our local and international airports started wearing alluring looks within the space of two years.

Airports are essential gateways into countries, and governments seeking to project their seriousness in economic modernisation use their airports as tools to make lasting impressions on local and international travellers.

The remodeling exercise was supposed to be the first step towards establishing mini-business hubs around our airports, thus giving way to new business and employment opportunities.

The story we now hear is that work in only the five international airports at Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu, have continued to be funded by officials of the Ministry of Aviation, while the rest are starved of funds. According to the reports, the Permanent Secretary and Accounting Officer, Dr Jamila Shu'ara, is "sitting" on the funds already set aside for the projects.

Shu'ara is also alleged to have redeployed directors monitoring these facelift projects. The reason for her action, according to the reports, is that she does not consider them as "priority projects". We hope this allegation is not true, and if so, we urge the Ministry to immediately clear the air. Otherwise we may well be on the way to another set of abandoned projects, which is one of the hallmarks of a nation bedevilled by severe infrastructural deficit.

We need to remind the Aviation Ministry's officials that the airports mapped out for total rehabilitation were carefully spread to reflect the six geopolitical and economic zones of the country. This was why they were highly applauded before the scandals came to sweep away those who initiated them. They are meant to provide outlets for the evacuation of agricultural outputs in far-lung zones of the country.

The objectives behind the remodeling and modernisation of our airports are still germane and strategic for the economic development of the country. Selective funding will take Nigeria back to the dark days when favouritism over the financing of federal projects led to the marginalisation of certain parts of the country while the others were favoured with a surfeit of federal infrastructure and presence.

The Presidency should look into this issue and act immediately to ensure the timely completion of the projects.

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