Hadi Sirika: Walking His Talk
The Federal Government’s decision to close the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to air traffic and flight operations for six weeks to enable the rehabilitation of the 3.6-kilometre runway elicited negative reactions from aviation experts and key stakeholders, many of who opted for segmented repairs instead.
They had argued that the closure would have a negative impact on Nigeria’s economy, which fell into recession last year. The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) advised that the repairs be carried out at night without necessarily shutting down the airport completely. Two aviation unions, the National Union of Air Transport Employees and Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria, in a joint letter to President Muhammadu Buhari questioned the rationale behind the decision at a time the country is facing dire economic challenges. But government insisted that portions of the runway were so badly damaged that only the closure of the airport to make for comprehensive repairs was good for the country. “This administration with safety and security as its priority has decided to face the problem head-on. The cooperation of all stakeholders is, therefore, required to enable us go through this transition period with minimal discomfort. It is better to lose billions than lose one soul,” the government stated. Yet, many Nigerians remained unimpressed.
The decision to divert all flights to the Kaduna International Airport was one that also incensed many of the stakeholders, particularly the foreign airlines. The chairman of AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison, doubted the
readiness and capacity of the Kaduna Airport to handle the volume of air traffic that hits Abuja Airport on a daily basis. As was witnessed, all the foreign airlines, with the exception of the Ethiopian Airlines declined to use the alternative route throughout the period of the closure, citing operational hazards and security concerns.
While the drama played out, one man remained resolute in his conviction that government’s decision was the best option. He is the minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika. Having been a member of the aviation committee, as a senator, he said the bad portions of the runway were an inherited problem that manifested to him now he is minister. He recalled a similar thing happening at the Port Harcourt International Airport and getting so bad that the portion caved in, resulting in the closure of the airport for two years. He wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to the Abuja Airport, he said.
But many Nigerians would take none of it for obvious reasons. As doubts and speculation of the elongation of the repair period became pronounced, Sirika vowed publicly to resign his appointment in the event
of government failing to deliver on the project at the promised time. “I will resign if the closure of the runway goes beyond six weeks. My reputation is at stake,” he declared at an aviation round table forum in Lagos to the surprise of all Nigerians present at the event, and who watched in television stations.
In doing so, Sirika set a record. In Nigeria, it is quite unusual to have a government official make this kind of declaration of assurance, and staking his exalted position, particularly when evidence of governments’ policy somersaults abound all over.
Sirika’s assurance to quit his job if he failed not only to deliver on the job, but also on schedule should be a benchmark for public officers on service delivery assurance.
Many people responded at the time saying not even President Buhari could speak with such certainty. What do we have today? The comprehensive rehabilitation of the runway was completed and the airport reopened to normal flight operation even ahead of schedule. That the minister worked with dedication to bring about this success story cannot be contested. Throughout the period, Nigerians saw him shuttling between Abuja and Kaduna all in a bid to deliver on his promises and prove doubting Thomases wrong. The prompt delivery of the Abuja Airport runway rehabilitation project is a plus for the Buhari administration and to Sirika, who stuck out his neck for it. As flight operations resume at the Abuja Airport, Sirika one dare say no longer has reason to voluntarily quit his job because he delivered. When the score card of Buhari’s government functionaries is marked, it is not likely that Nigerians will lose sight of the dogged fight of this former pilot, former member, House of Representatives and senator of the Federal Republic from Katsina State in bringing security assurance to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.
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