With the commissioning of some state-built airports in recent years, virtually each of the 36 states in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) now has an airport. All but one of the last set of states (six of them) created in 1996 by the late head of state, General Sani Abacha, now have airports. Zamfara State is the odd state. And it is also the only one of the total seven states in the North West zone without an airport. It has an airstrip of course, located in its capital, Gusau. Expectedly, the state government has plans for its own airport.
All six states in the South South zone host airports, Bayelsa being the latest entrant to the league of state-owned airports.
For the South East, there were hitherto two functional airports in Enugu and Owerri. Both Anambra and Ebonyi built one with inaugural flights in 2022 and 2023 respectively. So, Abia is the only state without an airport now in this zone. In the South West zones are Lagos, Ibadan and Akure airports. Ogun, Ekiti and Osun states are building their own airports. While Osun’s Moshood Abiola International Airport is stalled, the Agro-Cargo Airport in Ekiti and Ogun state’s Cargo Airport are very much on course. In fact the latter recently had an inaugural flight.
The question is how justified and viable are these airports that are dotted across the length and breadth of our country? The Cargo Airport in Ogun State can be justified on the grounds that the state is now an industrial hub with nearby Lagos State congested. The Uyo airport is also being complemented by the Ibom Air that offers commercial flight services. But the federal government-owned Ibadan airport is perplexing from the point of view of economic returns with Lagos, Ilorin, and Akure airports around it. Ditto other airports that are surrounded by airports in neighbouring states. I sense that a driving force for establishment of airports is the prestige that goes with it, being ranked as a state with an airport.
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Another question is how ‘international’ these airports are, given the trend of adding ‘international’ to their name. Again such designation seems to be borne out of prestige-hunting. Apart from Lagos, Abuja and perhaps Port Harcourt airports, it is doubtful if the plethora of ‘international’ airports in the country play host to international passengers. Many of the airports hardly have regular flights to such places and so rarely have regular Nigerian passengers. Most of those who patronise them are governors and the super-rich on chartered flights. However, some of these ‘international’ airports in the North serve the useful purpose of airlifting their indigenes for hajj, thereby saving them the stress associated with travelling to another state for the yearly hajj. This is an occasional operation though.
I suspect that state governments that have built airports would be lobbying the federal government to take them over in order to save them their associated huge maintenance costs. Air travel has the advantage of speed. And with security concerns in parts of the country coupled with bad roads, it should be the preferred mode of travel. But its prohibitive cost puts it out of reach of the ordinary man/woman. For state governments in particular, constructing an airport, a capital intensive project, remains an elitist project for the elites generally.
Victoria Ngozi Ikeano writes via [email protected]