By Tonnie Iredia
Arrangements have been completed by the Kaduna State Government for the operation of a shuttle flight system between Kaduna and Abuja as well as between Kaduna and Lagos. This followed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the state government and a business enterprise, Quorum Aviation Ltd, QAL, for the implementation of the policy. The company plans to deploy two 50-seater business jets to run at least five shuttle flights daily under the trade name BOKU AIR. At the signing of the MOU, Governor Nasir El-Rufai expressed confidence in the viability of the venture while calling on the people in Kaduna State, particularly businessmen and women that are interested in transacting businesses in Abuja to take advantage of the arrangement. The service which would complement the existing road and rail transportation takes off in 3 months.
Expectedly, the rather bold venture has been received with mixed feelings; whereas some have hailed it, others have fiercely criticised the policy. While there are people who believe the venture was initiated to suit the pleasures of the wealthy urban elite class, others have argued that what the government is doing amounts to merely abandoning the poor majority to kidnappers on the Kaduna-Abuja road knowing full well that the poor cannot afford the luxury. To one analyst, the venture is essentially escapist as the right thing would have been to put the road in good shape with adequate security. However, the arguments tend to discountenance the fact that societal development cannot be premised on road transportation alone even if all roads are in perfect condition. The truth is that El-Rufai has as usual demonstrated his pragmatism and visionary leadership in offering a rational comprehensive approach to issues by creating for the people transportation options making it possible for commuters to and from Kaduna to adopt a transportation mode that meets each exigency.
Those harping on the menace of kidnappers on the Abuja-Kaduna road appear to forget that meeting with kidnappers on that route is not the only challenge one faces. What about the long queues by different sets of security operatives on the highway which turns a 2-hour journey to 6 hours? While some of the checkpoints are supposedly mounted to frustrate the movements of insurgents and criminals, others are allegedly checking for illicit or banned items etc. Would the quantum of time to be saved by the proposed shuttle fights not be a great benefit to commuters particularly entrepreneurs? It would be recalled that during the first tenure of the Buhari government, the then Agriculture Minister, Audu Ogbeh, revealed that every government organization in uniform operating on the highway, extorts so much from truck drivers transporting foodstuffs from the farms to our cities. When such illegal collections are added to the cost of food items at their destinations, whatever gains would have come from their otherwise bountiful harvest are rendered nugatory.
As at today, air transportation has been epileptic; with one or no flights now and again. Even when there are flights, the trauma of waiting for unending delayed service is enough to disorganize any traveller especially those who have appointments to meet. Painfully, this has been the situation not just about Kaduna flights but in every route in Nigeria. There was the funny story of two passengers who once glanced at each other with amazement while listening to the air hostess of an only flight to one of Nigeria’s airports thanking the passengers for choosing to fly the particular airline forgetting that it was not a choice as there was no other option. As for rail transportation, anyone who has attempted to use the recently commenced Kaduna-Abuja service would testify to the rigours of obtaining tickets to use the service. To start with, there is neither provision for the purchase of tickets well ahead nor is there an opportunity to take advantage of the current global practice of online bookings. The result is that people have to wait at the stations for long hours before the sale of tickets which commences only some minutes to take-off time. This has encouraged insider smart practices by which people pay far more for a ticket than its official price. We all seem unmindful of the trend that every public policy in our country which brings us so much pain is a veritable source of corruption
We also tend to forget that the transportation sector everywhere holds the key to any economy as it forms the basis of all socio-economic interactions. Thus, a country such as Nigeria which has for long suffered the bane of inadequate transportation ought to take steps to redress the situation and join other nations such as Singapore and South Korea that have commendably built their economies around a viable and vibrant transportation system. Indeed, except the opportunities that abound within Nigeria’s transportation sector are imaginatively exploited, the sector’s contribution to the nation’s Gross National Product would remain abysmally low. Government must therefore redouble her efforts not only in the building and maintenance of good roads but in ensuring effective transportation by air and sea. Rather than agree with critics of the shuttle flights arrangement by the Kaduna State Government, we demand its judicious implementation and urge other states particularly those who are playing politics with societal development to emulate the Kaduna initiative.
We are indeed reminded that Kaduna has also taken the lead in urban renewal with plans to expand the metropolis to become home to an estimated 50 percent of the state’s population in the next 30 years. This is understandable because the city has grown tremendously since it was established about a century ago while public infrastructure has on the other hand not kept pace with the vast increase in its population. The approach is precisely what Nigeria needs now; not conservatism and delayed technological diffusion. Our leaders travel outside the country weekly to enjoy the benefits of technology in other countries without making reasonable efforts to similarly transform their states. Not long ago, one Nigerian governor complained to the media that he inherited a civil service state capital without explaining his plans to industrialize the same city.
The Nigerian media must at this point, set an agenda that can dissuade our leaders from running away from the same technology that energizes the developed world. This, the media can do by continually publicizing the giant strides attained elsewhere and commending each step taken by any Nigerian leader to be innovative and development oriented. Therefore, the current focus on politics outside the period for electioneering must stop. We need to interrogate our leaders on their plans to transform our cities rather than the focus on what their predecessors didn’t do. Even at election times, we have to play down mundane activities such as the deployment of security operatives to voting centres – a system that is no longer in vogue in other places.