By Ibrahim Akawu
In gauging the genuine commitment to issues of development, Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello has scaled the bar. He, despite federal government’s choice of upgrading Kaduna airport to serve as interim measure after flights activities were suspended in Abuja airport due to runway repairs, took a spirited decision to renovate and upgrade Minna International Airport. What this means is that while the Kaduna airport was the preferred choice, the governor thought, albeit rightly that the situation would present a good opportunity for Niger State to also gain.
And indeed it has. In six weeks that the suspension of activities at the Abuja airport lasted, the Minna airport, like its Kaduna counterpart, was busy too. The airport witnessed an increased flight activity and thus brought to the fore the role of the aviation industry in the economic development of the state. Although elitist, the aviation industry, no doubt contributes immensely to the Nigerian national income whether gross, net or per capital income. The sector has contributed over $685 million to Nigeria’s GDP in 2015.
That’s why during the period preceeding the federal government’s final decision to choose Kaduna airport, there was intense national debate as to whether which airport, Minna or Kaduna should be the preferred alternative provider.
In the ensuing national debate, the Niger State government made intensive campaigns for Minna International Airport, basing it’s argument on the premise that Minna was closer to Abuja than Kaduna. Secondly, the state is peaceful and has not yet recorded any incident of security breach of national concern. The only one problem, of course, that has posed serious challenge to the state was the issue of the road that linked Minna to the federal capital territory. That itself, the state government argued, could also be fixed by the federal government had it decided in favour of Minna International Airport.
The Kaduna airport too was not without challenge. The federal government had to spend over N11b to fix the airport and the road linking Kaduna to Abuja. In effect, one can see that which ever the federal government chose, Minna or Kaduna, money must be spent. The other aspect was the issue of hospitality in terms of hotel accommodation and matters related to it, which itself, wasn’t tenable because most of the passengers were Abuja bound and not Kaduna.
Now, after weighing the prons and cons and seeing clearly that in real terms, Minna had more advantages over Kaduna and believing that other flight users would come to see the advantages in relation to distance, cost and time, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello spiritedly embarked on interventionist approach to fix the problems hitherto highlighted, to make Minna International Airport upgraded and befitting and the road linking Minna to Abuja motorable, the two challenges which the federal government fixed for Kaduna.
The reason is for the state to also gain from the closure of Abuja airport and the direction of flights to neighbouring airports. As a seasoned business man and bringing his business acumen to fore, the bold decision he took to intervened to make Minna a second preferred choice for Airlines and flight users, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello had hit the bull’s right eye.
Even though these infrastructures are solely belonging to federal government, hence the responsibility of the federal government to repair them, the state government saw the wisdom to instead fix them since they were serving the interest of the state. And before long, the investment started yielding dividends. The director of aviation services at the Niger State ministry of works and infrastructure, Engr Ahmed Garba said several chattered airlines made use of Minna airport during the period Abuja airport was closed. He said many large aircrafts, including Boeing 747 took off and landed in Minna airport.
This, he said, was because apart from the renovation that had taken place, the airport has a good long runway and its Apron is big enough to accommodate large aircrafts. Also, the American embassies in Lagos and Abuja entered an agreement with Bristow air as carriers of diplomats and other officials, using Minna airport as mid landing and takeoff destination. According to Engr Ahmed Garba, the Bristow air made frequent trips to and from Abuja to Minna to airlift its passengers.
The work on Minna to Abuja highway has received considerable renovation. This was part of the effort to get rid or reduce associated complaints that airline operators or users may make. The governor has taken a bold step in confronting this challenge, not only for the window opened due to closure of Abuja airport, but for future and continuous use that would have immense economic impact for the state.
Why is the governor investing such substantial efforts and energy in the state aviation opportunities that abound in real terms? The answer is not far fetched. Although the Niger State commissioner for works and transport, Abdulmalik Dagaci Cheche said the governor was driven by sheer patriotism to help his state gain economically and to bring attention to it, any government interested in lifting the economic, social and political status of its state must not give a passing interest in the development of the aviation industry.
Recent report released by Oxford economic, a leading financial and economic analyst, said despite the global economic meltdown that had a toll on the aviation industry, air transport has been contributing $10 billion to GDP of Nigeria and other African countries. Also, close to six million jobs would be supported by Africa’s air transport sector in the next 20 years. “Aviation provides significant additional economic benefits by encouraging trade and investment”, the report revealed.
It further stated that substantial employment and economic activity is generated by small business and agriculture small holders in the developing world that are dependent on aviation. It does appear then that global economic growth is correlated with and dependent on aviation growth, the report stated.
It then means that aviation industry’s contribution to global economic development and social prosperity, while considering what that really means for individuals, country, regions, Niger State, its towns, family and places, cannot be overemphasised.
– Akawu wrote in from Minna