By Obi Nwakanma
LAST week, the Federal Execu tive Council announced that it had approved N4 billion for the upgrade of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. The news was conveyed to the public by the Information minister, Dr. Dora Akunyili.

It immediately elicited a jig from Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, the ranking senator from Enugu and deputy president of the Senate, who immediately began to wax lyrical about Yar’Adua showing the South-East that he cared. Well, really?

In any case, why shouldn’t Yar’Adua care? Approving state funds for the upgrade of federal investments in the South East of Nigeria should no longer be considered an act of charity from some god sitting in some splendid remove at Abuja, and dishing largesse to whomsoever he pleases.

It is an economic decision – and it is a sound economic decision to invest in an international airport in Enugu to cater for that segment of a travelling population who are currently inconvenienced by the absence of such a facility.

And the South-East of Nigeria is either part or not of the federation of Nigeria. Besides, I think that the senator Ike Ekweremadu must know that part of the negotiating process and gains of democratic of representation is the willingness to use legislative authority to push for projects and programs towards one’s constituency.

The decision to site and in fact upgrade the current facilities of the Enugu airport ought, therefore, to have nothing to do solely on the whims of President Yar’Adua.

Hopefully, it is a well-thought project emanating from the budget office, and taking life from the approbation committee of the various arms of the National Assembly, and of course requiring the affirmation of the president as fait accompli. He would be doing his duty and it would not be an act of charity to the East.

Besides, the money that goes into the upgrade of facilities at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu is not an out-of-pocket grant from the president, nor does it come from some inherited fortune or family trust fund accruing to the president by which he endows charitable work; it is money derived from the general revenue of pool of the federation of Nigeria coming mostly from receipts from exports, chief of which currently is oil, and from taxation – personal income tax, value added tax and corporate tax – some of which, I suppose are collected in Enugu particularly, and the South East of Nigeria generally.

I should, therefore, imagine that citizens of these areas must have some benefit of government, and such benefits must not be attributed to an individual, namely the president of the federation, but to the process of collective decisions that fashion and regulate the good conduct of state.

I realize, of course, that much of this question about the power of the Presidency is moot, but if it must take the president to decide the upgrade of the International Airport at Enugu, or even to raise the funds for such an upgrade, it means that the Federal Aviation Authority and the Federal Airports Development Authority, the institutions charged with airport regulation and development in Nigeria are redundant, and these bodies must then be scrapped, and such matters as ought to come under their purview charged henceforth under the office of the president.

But it also must mean that the president has more power than is permissible in a democracy.

It is the power to play God and the Russian roulette with our affairs. The president of the federation must never be in a position where he has the yam as well as the knife.

Such a power as personalizes the powers of state and continues to create the cult of personality that would make the senator from Enugu dance a public Atilogwu and sing the president’s panegyric just because the Federal Executive Council announces a mere N4 billion naira for the upgrade of a national infrastructure in his district is dangerous to democracy. We must review such powers if it is to make sense at all.

I have for long been under the impression that the National Assembly of which Ekweremadu is a principal operator, holds the purse strings.

Whatever it approves, the president spends. But I apparently need to be better informed about this. Besides, talk about the upgrade of the Akanu Ibiam international airport has been long on the marks. Indeed, there have been earmarks to it from the federal accounts, yet it has remained more in rhetoric than in fact.

Eastern and indeed many Middle belt international travelers have frequently demanded this upgrade for a number of reasons, chief of which is the inconvenience of always travelling to Lagos, Abuja or Kano, or even Port-Harcourt before they could board or even disembark from an international flight.

The two international gateways to the East, the Port-Harcourt Airport, and the Enugu Airport are underdeveloped and underinvested. This has been a major grouse.

The Enugu facility particularly needs significant upgrade in order to accommodate a certain class of aircraft, and indeed, a certain welcoming ambience befitting a national gateway.

The economic implications and opportunities that might accrue from the operations of an international airport at Enugu are rather too well known to rehash here.

But we need the facilities, and I’m afraid N4billion is rather too meager to effect the kind of upgrade befitting an international Airport in Enugu. It pales so profoundly when we note that about N124 billion was expended in the expansion and upgrade of just the domestic wing of the Ikeja Airport.

If the Federal authorities wish to invest in an international airport, and
the Akanu Ibiam International Airport is worthy of its own name and pedigree, then it must do the right thing: N4billion is unlikely to effect both the aesthetic and utilitarian character of that airport, not if we are thinking about new hangars, new comfortable terminal buildings, new runways, new landing facilities, and so on and so forth.

The Nigerian government and the Aviation authority must do the right thing. It must show us, citizens and potential users of this international airport, the design concept for this upgrade as a matter of public service.

It ought in fact to open public tenders for this design to talented Nigerian and even international designers, builders, an architects, so that we can choose rationally, raise taxes, get the matching grant from government, and build a befitting international airport in Enugu.

Enough of these arbitrary impositions – we citizens of this country should no longer be taken for children to whom candies are frequently handed. Besides, we must get a timeline for this N4 billion for the airport.

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