Ogbuagu Anikwe Viewpoints

Rhetoric of Enugu Airport closure

Officials of the Federal Ministry of Aviation have been putting out many messages on the challenges of flying into and out of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, long before the current Minister, Hadi Sirika, a smooth talking, swashbuckling technocrat came into office. The Katsina native, however, may wear the title of he who degraded and abandoned the Enugu airport, constructed over 60 years ago.

We decided to look dispassionately at the various statements that Mr. Sirika and officials of his ministry have been putting out since May 2019, when threats to shut down the airport intensified.

What is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is defined by the Webster’s dictionary as, among others (a) the art of speaking or writing effectively, and (b) skill in the effective use of speech. It goes further to say that this skill in the use of speech could also be insincere or grandiloquent. Insincere is when one is saying one thing even when he means to do another, while grandiloquent is saying something that is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, as Shakespeare would have nicely put it. Instructively, Webster’s gave one example of how rhetoric can be used in a sentence, as follows:
the mayor’s promise to fight drugs was just rhetoric, since there was no money in the city budget for a drug program

Sequence of dates

The following public statements are arranged in sequence according to their given dates, beginning from May 2019 to date. We shall continuously update this reading list as more statements are made between now and whenever the authorities decide to attend to the demands of the airport for rehabilitation and use.

Here we go:

May 17

We may downgrade Airport from International to local status

The Federal Government says it may downgrade Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu from handling international operations because of its inability to expand the runway. Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, made the disclosure at the 6th Aviation Stakeholders Forum in Lagos on Friday. Sirika said that there were some developments around the airport that posed security and safety threat to flight operations, adding that effort was on to address the challenges. According to him, the state government decided to situate its free trade zone, market and radio mast too close to the runway which is against international safety standard.

ISSUES TO PONDER: Are there different standards for air safety for local and international operations? Can what whatever constitutes compromise for international air safety standard be tolerated for local air safety? Is downgrading really a sincere solution to the problems of the airport?

May 18

Acknowledgement of Enugu State Government Response to issues outlined

“Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika wishes to acknowledge steps taken by the Enugu State government in a bid to improve safety at the Akanu Ibiam international Airport ( Enugu). We are happy to see that the Enugu state government has seen reason with the Ministry to address safety concerns raised. We are appreciative that in the name of safety, Enugu State Executive Council approved the immediate closure of Orie Emene Market (abattoir inclusive) to forestall any tragedy at the Airport. We are also happy that the Council also ordered immediate removal of all illegal structures encroaching on the land of the Airport, radio mast of the state broadcasting service, and Free Trade Zone.

Statement of readiness to commence rehabilitation

In the same statement of acknowledgement, the Minister said: “We, however, would be extremely comfortable if compliance with the above directives from the state government are carried out as soon as possible to give us necessary allowance to carry out repairs as well as expansion and extension of the Runway.”

July 26

Threat to Close the Airport

Immediate past Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, on Friday, said that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu should be closed (down) to avoid looming air mishap. Senator Sirika, spoke when he appeared before the Senate for screening and confirmation for reappointment as a minister. The Katsina State nominee told reporters that left for him the Enugu Airport should be closed immediately to save lives. He described the runway of the airport as an eyesore not befitting a modern airport.

August 17

A Fait accompli: The Airport is Shut

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, has finally … shut down the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu for major repairs. The closure of the runway will take effect from August 24, according to a statement by the spokesperson of FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu.

Issues to note: The statement from FAAN left hanging in the air, the matter of how long the airport will remain closed. It was an indefinite closure, as correctly observed by analytical reporters.

August 30

Reaction to observed distress that the abrupt and indefinite closure has occasioned

“It is never the intention of government to make things difficult for people. The closure of the airport is to ensure that it is safe for Nigerians to continue to use without any fear. It is important for airline operators to be comfortable with the airport and its facilities. These are the reasons for which the airport will undergo a shutdown for a small period.”

ISSUES TO NOTE: The closure, he said, will be for “a small period.” Although not answering the question of timeline, the public is now made to understand that within “a small period,” the airport will be closed. This was alarming and the South East Governors called an emergency meeting to deliberate on it and invited the Minister himself to speak to them on the plans they have for the airport.

September 13

3-Month deadline announced

From Governor David Umahi, Chair of South East Governors Forum:

“The Honourable Minister of Aviation has assured us that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport will be reconstructed to meet the Abuja International Airport standard, the runway shall be reconstructed and extended, and the landing equipment shall be replaced with a better night landing light installation and he has assured that the work will go on day and night and it must be completed before December 2019..″

After giving these assurances, the Minister quietly slipped out of the meeting and left the Ebonyi State Governor to make the statement. Many bystanders wondered whether it was in his place to give this assurance. But it achieved its purpose because the following day, the Minister went on air to announce that work at the airport has commenced and will be completed by December.

September 13

Work is ongoing; airport will be opened before Christmas 2019 – Minister

Work is ongoing. If everything goes as planned and we get all of the funding, we intend to open it before Christmas. Work does not necessarily mean the bringing of equipment into the airport to begin the reconstruction of that particular airport or runway; work entails the planning, mobilising people for work and the actual work itself. The planning is even more important than the work itself because when you plan very well, you succeed.

September 29

Rehabilitation has started – FAAN

The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has commenced the rehabilitation of the runway at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, confirmed the development to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Sunday.

October 4

Project Contractor has been mobilized to site – Ministry

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. James Odaudu, however, told one of our correspondents (Punch) that the project contractor had been mobilised to site. “Work has started there; the contractor was mobilised last weekend,” he said. Odaudu stated that going by what the aviation minister said, the reconstruction should be completed by December.

October 6

Flight operations will commence October 9 – Airport Manager

The Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu will commence commercial flights operations on Wednesday after it was closed for rehabilitation, the Airport Manager, Chuma Nwobi, has said. Mr. Nwobi said in Enugu on Tuesday that work is still ongoing at the airport but that it would not affect flight operations at the airport. He said that airlines operators can begin to schedule their flights to Enugu. “We are encouraging all airlines to resume flight operations at the airport; and we are ready for them,” he said.

October 9

It’s all lies – No work is going on at the airport – House of Reps

The House of Representatives has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and ensure the immediate commencement of work at the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu, six weeks after its closure without rehabilitation or reconstruction. At the resumption of plenary on Wednesday, the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, moved a motion which was jointly sponsored by 13 other lawmakers from the South-east under matter of public importance on the need to ensure speedy rehabilitation of the airport.

October 10

Minister demands N10billion to start work

Minister of Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika on Thursday said the Enugu international airport will require N10billion to be operational again. “Given the money, we have a time frame delivering the airport before Christmas.”

October 14

Work has not started because of N10b – Minister

Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika has said reconstruction of Akanu Ibiam Airport Enugu State has not begun because the N10billion project was not captured in the 2019 budget.

October 15

We want to meet with President Buhari – Governors

The South-East Governors’ Forum has resolved to meet President Muhammadu Buhari over the closure of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. Briefing reporters after the meeting with Ohanaeze Ndigbo, religious leaders and South-East National Assembly Caucus in Enugu, the Chairman of the forum, David Umahi, said they had resolved to meet with Buhari following fears that the airport could be abandoned.

CONCLUSION

The South East Governors finally appear to have realised that there is more to Sirika’s rhetoric than meets the eye. The dreaded word, “abandoned” has escaped from the lips of Gov. Umahi, reflecting what everyone has feared all along, as the Minister continued with his many statements.

One Reply to “Rhetoric of Enugu Airport closure

  1. A very thorough investigative reporting that is exposing their antics. The whole politics being played out by the Aviation Minister and his ministry one among the many plans against the economy of the South East.

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