By Donu Kogbara
ROTIMI Amaechi, the Minister of Transport, should be heartily congratulated for establishing an efficient railway service between the Federal capital and Kaduna.
When it was announced that Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport would be shut down for six weeks, starting March 8, while its ragged runways were being totally reconstructed, I was one of the many sceptics who rolled their eyes heavenwards, hissed sarcastically, accused the authorities of incompetence and assumed the worst.
We were told that local and international flights would be diverted to Kaduna; and the widespread scoffing at this idea appeared to have been well-founded when all of the major foreign airlines made it clear that they would rather lose millions of dollars than take the risk of regarding Kaduna as a credible alternative to Abuja.
The Nigerian public is long-suffering and unaccustomed to anything that is masterminded by our rulers going exactly according to plan; and weary Doubting Thomases like me not only thought it “ridiculous” and “embarrassing” that the seat of government should lack an operational airport for even one week, never mind six, but didn’t believe for even one second that the six-week deadline would be met.
“Why can’t the runways be repaired at night when there are no flights and then stay open during the day?” was a frequently asked question.
Meanwhile: “Forget that six-week story! This stupidity is going to last at least three months!” was an opinion that was gloomily voiced in numerous gatherings.
Meanwhile: “We will be extremely lucky if Abuja Airport re-opens this year!” was a commonplace utterance of the particularly pessimistic and especially cynical. In other words, prophets of doom had a field day and I expected complete chaos to descend on anyone attempting to shuttle between Abuja and Kaduna during this renovation exercise. But, much to my amazement, the opposite has happened.
I first heard that the project was going well from a PDP politician who can’t stand President Buhari or Minister Amaechi but grudgingly informed me a few days ago that the latter deserved praise because “he has done a good job, for a change!”
Why was this staunch supporter of ex-President Jonathan – who like me is from Rivers State and has hated Amaechi since he was our Governor and quarreled with Jonathan – suddenly so willing to speak well of Amaechi (for a change!)?
Because, according to him, the train that ferried him and other passengers from Abuja to Kaduna Airport was “clean, punctual and just generally impressive”.
Since then, I’ve taken it upon myself to ask around; and I’ve heard MANY compliments about the railway service from those who like Amaechi, those who dislike Amaechi and those who have no feelings for him either way.
Nobody I’ve approached has said anything negative about his handling of this professional challenge so far. It only goes to show that if you do your work well, most Nigerians will gratefully speak well of you, even if you are not their favourite person!
It only goes to show that Amaechi can become a truly great Minister of Transport if he puts his mind to it. Sometimes, professional attainments confer more honour and job satisfaction than political attainments. So bravos galore to Amaechi. May our long-neglected railway system expand and flourish under his watch.
By the way, my attitude to the airport renovation has changed. Amaechi’s Deputy, Senator Hadi Sirika, the Minister of State for Aviation, has said that he will resign if Abuja Airport does not re-open for business bang on schedule.
I now believe that he and his Boss can achieve this objective. And even if they slightly miss the deadline, I will not want Sirika to fall on his sword! If someone is serious, nobody reasonable will hold the odd delay or imperfection against them.