Has Aminu Kano Int’l Airport Fallen Into Bad Politics?
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
From all indications, it would appear that unexpected bad politics and possible ministerial interference may have overtaken the once bustling Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano, Kano State.
It was one of the airports that suffered the depraved corruptability of the Stella Oduah regime; seen as the height of official bankruptcy, and which left the airport in very poor state. It was not to be imagined that MAKIA would suffer another long drown official neglect after the Oduah abysmal record, and having regard to steps earlier taking by this government to fix the system defaults.
While the supposition appears farfetched in view of the focused working credentials and professional integrity of the Minister of Aviation, Engr. Hadi Sirika, events however tend to give credibility to concerns that something is obviously not right about the continued closure of the Kano Airport to international flights.
Being the second busiest international airport in the country, MAKIA have fallen victim to official rascality from time to time, since it started operation as a regional hub in 1936.
Whatever it may be, all the parameters required for the airport to be in full steam operation, domestic and international, looks unquestionably tidy, be it accreditation (local or international) for standards, services and manpower, operability, market viability and patronage.
Given the full complement of operational pool as indicated above, perhaps what can be said to be missing in the chain is the politics, which in this clime is always a constant in the overall permutation.
Indeed, politics alone drives a gigantic aspect of the affirmative process in any business blueprint, not the least being critical venture such as commercial aviation. MAKIA was among the four international airports forced to close down operation in March 2020 in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Federal Government however, announced a staggered resumption of the airports barely three weeks after. Sadly, while Enugu and Port Harcourt airports commenced both domestic and international flights, only domestic services were opened at the Kano Airport. The international wing of the Kano Airport was again shut down to allow for upgrade and maintenance, concluded more than four months ago; with the full complement of a new terminal, thanks to the working minister of aviation.
So, why is MAKIA not opened for international flight, months after it has acquired improved new look? Are there issues with the infrastructure and upgrade generally that are standing in the way of certification? When the Minister of Aviation again, recently announced resumption of flights across all the international airports in the country, including MAKIA, did he hold back information concerning the condition of MAKIA?
As at September last year, MAKIA was still battling with issues of certification and operability of its international services. The debate about the actual status of the Kano Airport assumed a doubtful dimension when the House of Representatives called on Federal Government to expedite actions in the certification and upgrade of the airport to world-class standard.
The appeal was in response to a motion by Hon. Haruna Dederi, who reportedly frowned at the delay in the roll-out of the Certification which commenced since 2017. In his argument to expedite action on the upgrade and audit of MAKIA, Hon. Dederi said failure to issue the certificate of fitness cast doubt on the integrity of the status of the airport.
He said, “The House is aware that the certification of an Airport entails making sure that everything is up to date, working and checked on a regular basis. It also encompasses all elements of safety oversight such as aviation legislation, operating regulations, civil aviation system, personnel training and certification, development of guidance materials and safety-critical information, as well as surveillance and resolution of safety concerns.
“The House is again aware that Airport certification is one of the requirements of ICAO and the NCAA and covers security, safety and equipment, it shows the Airport Operator and aircraft Operators with documented proof that the facilities they operate or use are safe; concerned that the Certification of Kano Airport started the same year, 2017 with that of Lagos Airport.
“Regrettably, while Lagos Airport has been certified, the Kano International Airport has not been certified. The House is worried that the true state and status of the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport is not known unless it is certified, failure to certify the Airport may be endangering the safety of aircraft and passengers alike,” he noted.
In the bid to address the issue, the House urged the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to speed up the certification of MAKIA.
In addition, the House also tasked FAAN and NCAA to include the certification in the 2021 budget estimates, just as it mandated its Committee on Aviation to liaise with the two regulators and other relevant agencies to ensure implementation of its recommendation.
While unconfirmed sources say the Kano Airport international aerodrome is ready with all infrastructure connected therewith, Federal Government reluctance as it were, to open it for international flight appeared to have opened room for doubts.
Speculations about possible political interference as reasons the airport remains shut to international flight heightened days ago, when the rumour hit town that President Muhammadu Buhari has granted approval to two Sudanese airlines, namely Badr Airlines and Tarco Airways, to operate the Kano Airport on regional services.
The two airlines are expected to operate two flights weekly from Khartoum, Sudan to Kano. Political observers have expressed shock over the ‘development’, noting that Sudan being a breeding and training grounds for terrorists, should not be in the equation of leading regional operation from Nigeria, talk less of being the sole operators of a major hub like MAKIA.
Playing the primitive politics, the FG from all indication, may have allowed the Sudanese to continue to feed fat on Nigeria. Despite that Sudan Air folded due to bad economy, through Abuja bad politics, the small country has been able to continue its exploit in Nigeria through the lucrative MAKIA.
While the observers queried the level of Nigeria trade relationship with Sudan to warrant the approval and the anticipated huge traffic to be enjoyed by the two airlines, others have asked about the BASA agreement.
This is even as another observer said Nigeria has had standing flight arrangement with Sudan since the era of the military.
“There has been a direct flight from Kano to Khartoum every Wednesday since Ibrahim Babangida’s time. After the recent uprising and the down turn in the Sudanese economy, Air Sudan folded up. The Sudanese Government nominated two airlines to take up the slot”, he said, adding:
“I don’t know which one was given. So, nothing is being revived. The problem is that those complaining don’t know that bilateral agreements exist. Do you know that you can see Jeddah from the port in Khartoum, Saudi Arabia is just across the water?
“If you know the number of people that travel to Saudi Arabia from Kano everyday you would be marveled. Saudi Air, Ethiopian Airlines, Afriqiyya, Max and Kabo fly from Kano every day.
Sudan Air used to be the cheapest and all you do is to cross to Jeddah by Ferry.”
April this year, officials threw up conflicting reasons responsible for the delay in the resumption of international flight operations at the Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt airports. While some attributed the delay to non issuance of notice to airmen (NOTAM) by FAAN, in addition to reported low passenger turnout, others blamed the delay on foreign airlines reluctance to resume after operations was shut down in March 2020 by the FG.
It is sad that the ministry of aviation have continued to throw up same excuse, under different conditions. This is against the backdrop of special flights operated by Ethiopia Airlines and Egypt Air on April 6, 2021, from Kano to Addis Ababa and Cairo, respectively. There were complaints that the airlines failed to complete their documentations to kick-off operations from that point.
But the seeming official deceits ended when other international airports, including Lagos, Enugu and Port Harcourt started international operations.
Thereafter, the narrative changed to concerns about low passenger turnout, up until all other international airports except MAKIA, began operation. A report quoted a FAAN official as saying, “Kano airport has been opened officially for international flight service, but the airlines designated to the airport have not completed their documentation. We have agreed that airlines should start operations at Port Harcourt airport because work has been completed there and the international wing of the airport has been marked, but Lufthansa, which is the only international carrier that goes to the airport, has not indicated interest to resume due to possible low traffic.
“Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt have received Airport Council International (Africa) health accreditation, but as we are opening our airports, Europe is closing theirs. Lufthansa is doing only Abuja and Lagos for now. Ethiopia Airlines will go to Enugu.”
He continues: “We are waiting for them to go to Enugu, but I cannot confirm if we have finished other protocols for the international wing of Enugu airport. I will go to Enugu next week for the Airport Performance Evaluation, but I understand that the availability of passengers will determine the decision of airlines to resume operations in these three airports.’’
It would be recalled that after the latest upgrade of the airports, the FG on March 16, 2021, announced dates for the resumption of international flight operations at Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu International airports.
Sirika at a briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 said Enugu airport would be reopened on May 3, 2012; Kano airport on April 5, 2021, and Port Harcourt airport on April 15, 2021. While the other international airports have been operational, Kano Airport remained on hold until news of the Sudan regional operations filtered in.
The Kano International Airport is the main airport in northern Nigeria, and have remained the regional operational hub. It plays host to approximately ten domestic and international carriers, private jet owners and is also used by the Nigerian Air Force.
Apart from being one of the oldest airports in Nigeria, credited with being the first to land aircraft l in Nigeria in 1922, MAKIA attracts the highest possible traffic in northern Nigeria, with the second highest revenue generation into government coffers. The Kano Airport is believed to have started full swing commercial operation in 1936 with flights to Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and international flight to Cairo, Addis Ababa, Medina, Khartoum; and has since linked up with other destinations across the globe.
Following the FG announcement for it’s reopening for international flights, the prospects of revenue receipts accruing to the federation account assumed a positive outlook amongst revenue generation organizations, including the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), VAT etc.
Speaking on the resumption of international flights, NCAA in conjunction with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in April 2021 announced: “We wish to inform the industry of the following: 1. International flights will resume at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (DNKN) with effect of 2301 UTC on 10th April 2021. 2. The resumption dates of the International flights at Port Harcourt International Airport (DNPO) and Akanu Ibiam International Airport (DNEN) will be announced in due time.”
Unfortunately, after just a day’s resumption of operation on Tuesday, April 6 2021, the Kano airport went quiet again, with no official explanations. The single day operation was however historic as the flights resumed at the new terminal of the international wing of the airport.
Aside loss of government revenue, the social and economic potentials, commerce and employment, direct and indirect, which the Kano Airport offers many Nigerians through its capacity utilization, have also falling victim to the ongoing apparent state politics.
Of all the intrigues and wonders successive governments have taken this nation, perhaps, none has been as counterproductive and officially reckless as acting against its own economic interest.
Incidentally, Kano is not only a centre of commerce but indeed, also a vast political empire with huge electoral value for national party politics. As an important political base, it remains to be seen how this government plan to excuse its actions in the coming years, for denying a segment of the society, particularly the tourism and hospitality industry, the economic space to ply their businesses.