For sometimes now, one has been wondering, what actually is the problem the present federal government of Nigeria has with people of the Southeast? Why is it that any little case that could take dialogue and humane understanding to resolve, between federal government and the region, the federal government jumps immediately at taking draconic decisions that would only succeed in making lives more difficult for the already traumatized people from that region of the country?
In September 2017, we all witnessed the highest hypocrisy of the present federal government when it jumped into proscribing the pro-Biafra Igbo youth movement (IPOB) and tagging it a terrorist organization. The federal government did not stop there. It went further to launch immediately the infamous Python Dance II military killings of members of this Igbo youth pro-Biafra group. The massacre of Igbo youths committed by the Nigerian military during the September 2017 Python Dance II military invasion of Igboland is still fresh in the memory of all of us.
Unfortunately, the same federal government that was quick to tag the non-violence IPOB pro-Biafra youth movement a terrorist organization has refused to tag the marauding Fulani herdsmen militias, Zamfara bandits and kidnappers terrorist groups. The same federal government once it came to power in 2015 released from prisons members of Boko Haram Islamic terrorists group imprisoned during the administration of President Jonathan.
Since then, there has been no records so far, of any known member of Boko Haram terrorist organization, Fulani herdsmen militias, Zamfara bandits and kidnappers, arrested or called to book by the present federal government. But members of IPOB, a non-violence pro-Biafra Igbo youth movement, that have never killed or harassed anybody or group, was quickly labelled a terrorist organization by the present federal government of Nigeria in September 2017.
IPOB is a non-violence pro-Biafra Igbo youth movement, seeking for self-determination of their people through the legal means of referendum. Yet, the federal government of Nigeria instead of dialoguing with this Igbo youth non-violence movement, chose military brutality and recklessness in dealing with the Igbo youth group. While on the other hand, the same federal government is offering monetary assistance to appease Boko Haram terrorists, and Miyetti Allah organization, sponsors of Fulani herdsmen terrorists, bandits and kidnappers. What type of country is Nigeria?
Next year 2020, will be fifty years since the end of Nigeria-Biafra War, yet the federal government’s relationship with Igbo nation has continued to portray the Nigerian state as a country still in war with the people of the defunct Biafra enclave. What actually is the problem of the Nigerian state with the Igbo nation? This is what I am yet to fathom!
I was seven years old when the Nigeria-Biafra War started. As a child who relocated with his family to the East from the Yoruba town of Owo where we lived when the hostilities of the mid-1960s against the Igbos started, I can voucher to say that I experienced the war in all its crudeness and ramifications, both as a child refugee and survivor of the genocidal war. It was not in any way a “civil war”, but a war of survival for my Igbo people.
Now, in my adult age, I am yet to fathom what actually is the offence of the Igbo race to the successive Nigerian federal governments since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war, especially with the present administration of President Buhari? The sufferings we the Igbo passed through during the war surfaced in other subtle more forceful dimensions since the end of the war because of the successive federal governments’ oppressive policies towards the people of the region. One would have thought that with the 1970 end-of-war declaration of “no victor no vanquished” by General Yakubu Gowon military war junta, the federal government could have at least allowed Igbo people a breathing space in the yet to be “reconciled” post-war Nigeria!
Unfortunately, the behaviour of Nigerian federal government towards the Igbo race since then till date tells us that indeed the war has not yet ended. What it did was only to change face, that is, from open military combatant to a well marshalled out political and economic oppressive war policy of exclusion, lopsided government, stagnation and marginalization of Igbo people and region in the scheme of things in the post-war Nigeria.
To achieve this, federal government since the end of the war decided to militarilize Igboland. Igboland as of today is even more militarlized than the Northeast of the country where the Islamist terrorists Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen killers are still holding sway. This is the reality on the ground today. It is under this guise that the present federal government of President Buhari is playing to the gallery in his administration’s dealings and relationship with the Southeast region and people from that area. This is the naked truth, many fear to acknowledge openly in the present dispensation.
Why do I have to go this far to introduce the subject of our present article? The present threat of the federal government to shutdown Enugu Airport without any time-line framework, for whatever reason, for me, is suspicious and politically motivated. We cannot build a New Nigeria of our dream with this continued policy of threats and marginalization of a cross-section of the country. Moreover, there is no future for Nigeria if we continue with this culture of politics of ethnic-hate against a particular section of the country.
The Present Case of Enugu Airport
Only the most gullible among us will not see a sinister agenda in the present threat of the federal government to shutdown Enugu Airport, downgrade it from international airport status to a local airport. Since the upgrading of the Enugu Airport to international status under the Jonathan administration, the powers-that-be in Nigeria, have not been comfortable. This time around, they seemed to have gotten “cooked-up” reasons to downgrade the airport from its international status to a local airport, citing unfounded safety concerns from their ‘surrogate’ airlines.
Speaking at the so-called a Stakeholders Forum in Lagos on Friday, May 17, 2019, Hadi Sirik, a Fulani Northern Muslim and minister of State for Aviation, alerted his audience that the federal “government was considering to shutdown Enugu Airport to address safety challenges raised by airline operators flying into the airport.”
Hear him speak:
“We have issues with Enugu Airport, and we may downgrade Enugu Airport in terms of international status and I have discussed it with the federal government”, said Mr. Hadi Sirik, who is a member of the Federal Executive Council and is, in fact, the ‘federal government.’
According to Mr. Sirik, among the major challenges hampering the smooth operation of the airport, which calls for its closure and downgrading, includes the following:
“The poor state of the airport runway, the presence of a state radio mast on the flight path of airlines, the citing of Free Trade Zone near the airport, as well as incessant bird strikes affecting airlines and occasioned by the presence of an abattoir at the proximity to the airport. The minister added that he had discussion with the Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwanyi on the need to relocate the market, pull down the radio mast and relocate the Free Trade Zone in the interest of safety of aircraft and passengers.”
If we are to take the minister of State for Aviation by his words, that he had discussion with Enugu State Governor towards addressing the safety concerns of the airport, one wonders how that will translate immediately into the shutdown threat and downgrading of the airport from international status to local airport? Moreover, the fact that the honourable minister of State for Aviation made those declarations at Lagos and not at Enugu, the scene of the airport itself, raises more questions than eye can see.
Again, the honourable minister of State for Aviation did not wait for the response of the Enugu State government in addressing those issues before he jumped into the conclusion of shutting down and downgrading the airport to a local status. Enugu Airport is federal government property. If the state of the airport is deplorable, as the minister of State for Aviation alarmed us, the federal government’s response wouldn’t have been to downgrade it or shutdown the airport, but rather to fix it, modernize and raise the airport to a more acceptable standard as an international airport.
The response of a responsible federal government to such an important airport like Enugu Airport, the only international airport in the whole of Southeast, wouldn’t have been the threat to shut it down or worst still, to downgrade it. Such a statement and decision to shutdown the airport and downgrade it could only come from someone serving an irresponsible government with hidden agenda against the people of the region where the airport in question is located. I am afraid that is what is playing out here.
The fact on the ground today is that almost all the airports in Nigeria have nothing to write home about. Why single out Enugu Airport for persecution of the people of the region making use of the airport?
Note that the Ikeja Airport in Lagos is today surrounded by residential houses and many mini markets, with Fulani cows roaming in and out of the airport. The airport today situates at the centre of the city suburbs of Lagos, yet nobody had ever threatened to shut it down or downgrade it. Again, the Ibadan Airport situates along one of the busiest roads in the city, it lies at the centre of the town suburbs, leading to UI. Yet nobody had ever threatened to shutdown or downgrade the Ibadan Airport. Why should Enugu Airport be treated differently?
Moreover, Kano International Airport is in the most deplorable condition than Enugu Airport. The Kano Airport is also discovered recently to be the hub for criminals of drug-traffickers to Saudi Arabia; yet nobody has threatened to shutdown the airport. The case of Kaduna Airport is even worse. Fulani herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers have taken over the surroundings and roads leading ‘to and fro’ the airport. The story is the same for most of the airports in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country today. Yet nobody had threatened to shutdown these airports. Why single out Enugu Airport for shutdown and downgrading is what I am yet be convinced by the minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirik.
In other words, if the federal government wants to address the issue of safety of our airports, they must adopt a holistic approach and equal level-playing ground for all the airports in the country, no matter where they are located. This is what one does not see in the current move by the minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirik in singling out Enugu Airport in the Southeast region for persecution!
Read again the statement of the minister of state for Aviation, where he said, FG to shut down Enugu airport. Thereafter, the minister said that the same FG shutting down Enugu airport, is repairing Lagos airport runways, because according to him, Lagos airport makes more money to the nation than any other. There was no plan to shut down Lagos airport to effect the repairs or sort out the current menace there. Moreover, the essence of having airports at the people’s proximity shouldn’t be seen only from the perspective of economic reasons, but for the simple purpose of serving the local population from that area in their local and international travels and other needs.
Note also that at the time the FG is threatening to shutdown Enugu Airport, the same FG is currently constructing “Dry Seaports” in Kaduna and Ibadan. That means, FG is constructing cargo railway lines of international standard that will link these two landlocked cities in the North and West of the country respectively with Lagos seaports, to make it easy for containers to land and be offloaded directly in these landlocked cities of Kaduna and Ibadan. Where is Enugu in all these? Enugu shares the same history of defunct regional headquarters and major capital city as Kaduna and Ibadan!
Mind you, we are not against the building of “dry seaports” anywhere in the country. Or upgrading and renovating other airports in Nigeria. No. This is not our contention in this article. Rather our concern is the federal government’s continued insincerity in their dealings with the people of Southeast, the federal government’s consistent ulterior motives and lies when it comes to issues of citing infrastructures and allocating federal parastatals, and leadership roles, etc. to the Southeast region and its people.
Please, could anyone now explain to me why Enugu or any of our big commercial cities like Onitsha and Aba can’t be considered also for “Dry Seaports” like Kaduna and Ibadan?
Again, who can explain to me why the three existing international Seaports in the South Eastern Atlantic coasts located at Port Harcourt, Calabar, and Warri can’t be opened for business? Why were they closed in the first place, and till date nobody is talking of reopening them for business? Why must our business men and women from the former Eastern region be forced to go through Lagos to claim their goods? What is the problem with the seaports at Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri? Why can’t the FG open these seaports at the doorpost of our business men and women in Eastern Nigeria? What problem have the FG with Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri seaports? Do these seaports have the same problem FG is accusing Enugu Airport today?
Again, can anyone tell me, why since Enugu Airport was up-graded to international status, thanks to the doggedness of the then minister of Aviation, Senator Princess Stella Oduah, only one international airline (Ethiopian Airlines) is permitted to use the airport? Who has forgotten how some section of Nigerian media based in South-Western Nigeria staged a sustained media trial and campaign of calumny against Princess Stella Oduah, accusing her of all nonsensical things to damage her reputation and force her to resign as minister of Aviation under Jonathan administration?
Only the gullible would not know that the only offence this most patriotic Igbo lady politician and Princess committed for these brown-envelope controlled Journalists and their sponsors, is nothing else than the fact that she insisted in upgrading Enugu Airport to an international status. Of course, she later paid the price for she resigned later as minister of Aviation. But has her people of Anambra State not recognized her good work when they elected her their Senator! She won also her re-election during last elections. People know when one is being persecuted because he or she has decided to identify with their aspirations as the people.
Since Enugu was upgraded to an international airport during the Jonathan administration and through the doggedness of Senator Princess Stella Oduah, enemies of the Southeast people have been very uncomfortable. And with the present hostile federal government on board, they see it as an opportunity to reverse that decision. This is part of what is been played out today with the new order of Buhari led federal government to shutdown Enugu Airport and downgrade it to local status. Let’s hope time will prove us wrong.
Normally, when an airport is being closed for repairs or for whatever reasons, the federal government usually gives the timeframe it will take and advises the airport users of a nearby airport to use as alternative. They did so last time Abuja airport was closed for repairs and FG equipped Kaduna airport as alternative. Now, can anyone tell me of any airport the FG has equipped in the Southeast and ear-marked to serve as alternative while the case of Enugu International Airport is settled? The answer is none.
The Order to Shutdown Enugu Airport is Political
All said and done, methink that the current order of the FG to shutdown Enugu Airport is political. The fact is that since Enugu airport was upgraded to an international status, most of our people in the Southeast preferred to travel through Enugu route instead of Lagos, Abuja and Kano. This has been a big worry to the powers that be.
Most travellers from the Southeast people nowadays chose Enugu route for their foreign trips. This is in spite of the inconveniences that only one aircraft, Ethiopian Airlines flies the airport and only three times a week.
But the upgrading of Enugu Airport as international airport is today seen by powers that be, to be a big blow to Lagos economy and commercial activities. It has also helped to checkmate to some extent, constant harassments Igbo travellers and traders experience at the hands of anti-Igbo Nigerian Customs officers and other security personnel stationed at Lagos, Abuja and Kano international airports.
Furthermore, the current order to downgrade and shutdown Enugu Airport indefinitely by the FG is NOT unconnected to the ongoing upheaval and near-xenophobic attacks of Igbo traders and residents in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, etc. It is all, aimed to hurt the economic and commercial livelihood and activities of Igbo people, especially, traders and Igbo sons and daughters in Diasporas who fly airlines often. Moreover, it is part of the wider agenda to force Igbo nation to submission by the present ruling Oligarchy of oppressive Nigeria’s fractured political structure and system.
All these mean, that FG shutting down Enugu Airport must be seen for what it is: It is a continued attack on the only remaining economic source and activity of people of the former Eastern region, especially the Igbos – (commerce and trade). The earlier we realize this the better we are equipped to look for ways of helping our suffering traders and common masses.
The question is, why must the people of the Southeast be forced to travel to Lagos or Abuja or Kano airports, and the Lagos seaports if they wish to make foreign trips, claim their goods, or do business? Why can’t the FG allow Enugu Airport, the only international airport in the Southeast to be? Or if they are sincere with themselves, and intend really to fix the airport, why can’t the FG upgrade at least the one at Owerri to international status as the FG itself sorts out the problem with the Enugu Airport? Why landlock the entire people of the Southeast, starve them of international airport services because of such a minor issue FG could easily sort out with Enugu State Governor.
Shutting down Enugu Airport for whatever reason at this most critical time of Nigeria’s checked history is suspicious. One must be worried about which way we are going in Nigeria today.
At a time the FG is building a new seaport at Badagry in Lagos, a region that has already two seaports of international status in its domain, and the FG is also constructing “Dry seaports” of international status in the landlocked cities of Kaduna and Ibadan, it is painful that the city of Enugu which shares the same long history with these other cities, has none in its domain! This is the crux of the matter.
These things must worry any right-thinking individual and person of conscience. The only mega international airport at Enugu that is supposed to serve the entire people of the Southeast is now being threatened to be shutdown and its international status downgraded by the FG? Nigeria, Quo Vadis?
Who can’t read in-between the lines and know that the continued economic stagnation and political exclusion of people of the Southeast region in Nigeria today is the hidden agenda here? This is the game!
May God help our people, liberate us all from our present state of servitude and ignorance!
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.