UK fears for passengers’ safety as Nigeria plans Abuja airport closure
The British government has expressed concern over Nigeria’s plan to close Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport for six weeks in 2017.
The UK Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Harriet Thompson, met with Nigeria’s Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, on Thursday, three days after the government announced the planned closure.
The government had announced on Monday that all Abuja-bound domestic and international flights would be diverted to Kaduna for six weeks in 2017 to enable the government upgrade the airport’s runway.
Passengers would then be transported by government-provided buses to Abuja, some 210 kilometres away.
Some Nigerians have expressed concerns about passengers’ safety, amid reports of banditry and kidnapping along Kaduna-Abuja Road.
Mr. Thompson raised the same fears on Thursday, the News Agency of Nigeria reported.
Mr. Sirika said the government would provide necessary security to travelers.
He told the UK diplomat that the closure was to let the badly damaged airport runway be reconstructed.
The minister said the runway would still be put to use while the work was ongoing on.
He said the six-week closure was to take advantage of the dry season to reconstruct the mid-section of the runway.
According to him, the government has put in place adequate arrangement to provide buses to convey passengers to Abuja or to railway station, depending on the choice of the passengers involved.
“A robust security arrangement involving the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence, Immigration service and Customs service have been made to escort passengers from Kaduna to Abuja during the period of closure.
“I would rather lose $five billion than lose one person,” the minister said. “Kaduna Airport will be used as alternative,’’ he said.
On the involvement of the airline operators, the minister said that all relevant parties were involved and assured Mr. Thompson of maximum comfort during the reconstruction.
He commended the diplomat for the visit and extolled the relationship between Nigeria and the Government of United Kingdom.