By Cecilia John/Noami Sharang
Abuja – The Senate on Tuesday, summoned the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi to appear before it within two days over planned shutdown of Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja for six weeks.
This followed a motion sponsored by Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Sen. Hope Uzodinma and co-sponsored by five other senators.
The senate also summoned the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar and Minister of State, Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika on the issue.
Others also invited are, Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Bello, Managing Director, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
Presenting the motion, Uzodinma expressed concern on the decision by FAAN to close the Airport for six weeks, beginning from March 6, to carry out repairs on the runway.
He said that while the effort to carry out repairs on the runway was a welcome development, the closure of the only runway was unacceptable.
According to him, the closure of the only airport in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) can trigger untold hardship on international and local travelers as well as dent the image of the country.
“A complete shutdown of the airport will impact negatively on international trade and related activities with multiplier effect that can exact further pressure on an already recessed economy.
“Plans to divert Abuja bound flights to Kaduna will throw up logistics and security challenges, including endangering lives and property of travelers.
“All options have not been exhausted to avoid the shutdown of the only airport at our national capital for six weeks.
“This is including the option of a technical package to allow skeletal air operations at the airport while most repair work is executed at night,’’ he said.
Supporting the motion, the Deputy Leader, Sen. Bala N’Allah, said it was ridiculous that a capital city would be shut down because of renovation.
He further said that the move would embarrass Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa.
N’Allah urged the Sirika to think outside the box to reconstruct the runway in phases.
“If the news goes across the globe that the largest city is being shut down, it will create negative economic, political and social impact,’’ he said.
This he said would be in addition to security hazards associated with moving air travellers to Kaduna Airport.
He said that, ‘’the fire brigade approach to renovate Kaduna airport cannot withstand the number of flights that will land and take off.
However, the Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sen. Shehu Sani, opposed the motion on the grounds that Kaduna was ready to host the whole nation as far as international flight was concerned.
He said that from the contribution to the motion, it was obvious that the elites were avoiding the problems they created for themselves.
According to him, many of them are afraid of travelling by road from Kaduna to Abuja, should flights be moved to Kaduna, for fear being kidnapped.
“This motion is more of an attempt to deny Kaduna the opportunity for people to see the beautiful landscape in the state,’’ he said.
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Dr Saraki, commended the lawmakers for their contributions.
He also commended Sen. Sani for his view on the issue but insisted that considering all facts placed before the senate, complete closure of the airport would impact negatively on the economy.
Saraki said,“There is nowhere in the world where airports are completely shut down.
“We do not need to go far. Our neighbouring country, Ghana, when it renovated it’s runway recently, did not shut the entire airport.
“We must ensure that we do the right thing and those invited should meet with the Senate urgently because the idea of closure is not the best,’’ he said.