TVC E. The main airport serving Abuja will be shut down for six weeks starting from today (8th of March 2017), so that its dilapidated single runway can be repaired. The airport is the second busiest in Nigeria, handling more than 5 million passengers a year. Hadi Sirika, the minister of state for aviation, said the government had no choice but to divert traffic.
To the seasoned air traveler, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport has room for improvement. Travelers must climb a grimy stairwell to get to gates for boarding. The restaurant food is usually stale. The coffee is powdered. Security officers sometimes ask for a little extra something for their efforts. The bin they use for stashing confiscated items on a day not long ago held an assault rifle.
Yet for Nigerians living in the sleepy capital, Abuja, the airport with its more than 80 flights a day usually serves the purpose of getting them to their destinations, despite delays and cancellations that plague any busy airspace.
After mounting complaints about the poor state of the runway from airlines, and with safety consultants fearing impending disaster, government officials finally acceded to fixing its many cracks and holes — repairs that are 15 years overdue.
Officials decided the damage was so bad that it couldn’t be fixed piecemeal and required a total shutdown of operations. They have said repairs should take no more than six weeks, but skeptical passengers accustomed to unfulfilled government promises worry that work could drag on for months.
The government’s Plan B for the airport isn’t soothing concerns. Planes are to be rerouted to a tiny airport in Kaduna, where on a typical day only a handful of flights go in and out. A new terminal being built in Kaduna to handle the influx was still under construction.
Passengers will be ferried free of charge by bus on a roughly three-hour trip to Abuja along a road famous for kidnappings and banditry in a region where nomadic herdsmen and farmers engage in frequent deadly clashes. Officers from the air force, road safety corps and the secret police will be posted along the road linking the two cities, and officials have assured the public that everyone will be safe.