The commissioning of the Port Harcourt International Airport on October, 25, 2018, has come and gone and a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The unveiling by President Mohammadu Buhari of the $111m project brought some life back to the terminal building and posted another milestone in the development of the aviation industry in Nigeria.
It enhanced the image of the third busiest airport in the Nigeria which was recently adjudged the worst in the world by some international aviation regulatory bodies.
Since November 1, 1925, when the first-ever aircraft, the Royal Air Force of Great Britain, landed in Nigeria at the ancient city of Kano, Nigeria’s aviation industry has witnessed many milestones such as the feat in Port Harcourt. There are about 30 airports in Nigeria and more are still coming. Currently, 26 of them were being managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Nigeria, for now, has five functional international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Enugu. The commissioning of the new international terminal building built by China Construction Company (CCC) is seen as commendable and spectacular.
According to sources from the Ministry of Aviation and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), work at the terminal building project, along with three others in Lagos, Abuja and Kano, commenced in February 2014 and were funded through the China-Exim Bank loan of $500m and another US$100m counterpart fund facility.
The newly commissioned terminal terminal has the capacity to process about seven million passengers annually, covering a space of approximately 28,000m and has 24 check-in-counters and three baggage collection counters.
It also has 12 immigration desks at arrival, 16 immigration desks at departure; four security screening points, four passenger boarding gates and a host of other facilities.
The terminal building contract was awarded in 2012 by the Goodluck Jonathan administration but large-scale construction work started in 2014, with the main structures which include a two-storey building, a cargo terminal and several ancillaries works.
According to the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, the airport project was expected to be delivered within a period of two years but at the time the current administration came on board, the level of work was below 30 per cent, because it was bedevilled with various technical challenges. He explained that the current administration had to approve the China Exim Bank loan to complete the project because the PH International Airport was very important to the Nigerian economy. He said it served over one million (1,080,284) passengers in 2017. The old terminal building, he explained, was unable to provide the requirement and space to handle such volume of passengers.
The commissioning of the new terminal building for the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, was therefore seen by stakeholders as a welcome development.
This important development was equally captured by President Buhari when he said that the terminal building was part of the Federal Government’s deliberate policy to sustain the development of infrastructure for the economic growth in all the political zones in the country.
According to him, the new terminal building represents a significant landmark for international airport travellers, particularly from the south-south region, pointing out that it also intended to modernise aging airport infrastructure to meet global aviation standard.
APC, PDP, jostle for credit
What was not a welcome development, however, was the futile political tussle that ensured soon after the commissioning ceremony by the president, between the two main rival political parties in the country, the APC and the PDP.
While the APC and the members of the Federal Executive Council were clinking glasses to cheer and toast for the said feat, the members of the PDP were busy laughing them to derision and chiding them for the perceived glory they said they did not deserve.
It was really a show of shame as both political parties spent time and energy to prosecute their claims and counter-claims. It was really a cross-fire.
Thus, most observers urged the political class in Nigeria to know that both the APC and PDP are mere chauffeurs driving Nigeria and her people to a destination.
“The car does not belong to them, neither does the road and other infrastructures”, an elder in one of the parties said. It would be an acute myopia for any political party, present or past, to arrogate so much to themselves because government is a continuum.
The China loans
It is on record that the said project at the Port Harcourt International Airport was started since 2012 by the Jonathan’s administration and completed by the President Buhari Administration five years later.
The China Exim Bank provided the $500m loan and the US provided the needed $100m for the counterpart fund facility. Which of the political parties involved in the cross-fire would be able to repay the loan? This is a project meant to be executed in two years but now commissioned five years after.
Many said this was the crux of the matter and that it called for a sober reflection and the need to ask questions like; ‘Why did we fail to deliver a project with borrowed money meant for just two years in five years? Have we thought about the huge sum and the interest thereof?”
Terminal building yet to commence operation
The said new terminal building is yet to commence operation one week after the commissioning ceremony and may still not be in use for some time to come, according to airport witnesses who said; “It is not yet uhuru.”
Observers think that what happened at the Port Harcourt International Airport Omagwa could best be described as a “political commissioning ceremony”.
Meanwhile, the domestic terminal building started earlier, was still moving one step forward and two steps backwards. The commissioning ceremony for the domestic wing, especially the terminal building, had been put off more than three times.
The Regional Manager, South – South and South – East, Otumba Afolabi Ojo, while briefing members of the press at the airport recently, said the project would be commissioned in March next year but the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Sirika, was quoted by the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, as saying that the project will now be commissioned in December this year. We are waiting. God bless Nigeria.
Ignatius Chukwu David Ejiohuo