Now that our faith in our country – Nigeria – seems to be at its nadir, when it has become fashionable to hear some of us declare that they have given up on her, that they no longer believe she can regain her lost glory or ever give them cause to believe in her destiny, I think the reopening of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, offers us good reasons to re-examine such cynicism, and lessons worth considering about the potential for her renaissance.
I think the cynicism is not entirely unjustified because so much has happened in our history since Independence in 1960 that one may be deemed pollyannaish or an unrealistic patriot for continuing to believe in our country.
In The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe, one of our greatest writers, sums up our many lost opportunities to achieve greatness despite our being endowed with vast human and natural resources as a case of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” In “What is Nigeria to Me,” an essay in The Education of a British-Protected Child, he describes our country as “a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed, and incredibly wayward.”
And Fela Anikulapo Kuti, one of our greatest musicians, once sang of our country: “As time dey go, things just dey bad, dey bad more and more…” a recognition of the constant decline in her fortunes, and ours with it, due to poor management and sometimes sheer irresponsibility, corruption or cluelessness on the part of the managers.
What is worse, however, is that despite such strictures, our country seems to have remained dedicated to walking the downward path. And those expressing loss of faith in her are largely venting their frustration with her seemingly chronic inability to put her acts together and make sense of her vast potential.
But, as I have also said, the reopening of the Abuja airport offers us reasons to re-examine such cynicism, and lessons from the current government of President Muhammadu Buhari as to how we can make our country work, or experience a renaissance.
To summarise the related events as a quarry for the lessons: The airport reopened a day before schedule on April 18, 2017, having been closed for rehabilitation for six weeks on March 8, 2017. Ethiopian Airlines, the only foreign airline that accepted to use the alternative Kaduna airport during the rehabilitation, actually landed an aircraft at the reopened airport. Before its closure, our government was criticised by some stakeholders, especially the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), which argued that the rehabilitation could take place with the airport in use. The sum of N5.8 billion was earmarked for the rehabilitation; and in an unprecedented declaration, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, vowed to resign if the airport was not reopened on schedule, thereby putting his job and integrity on the line to support a task under his charge.
The fundamental lesson is that our country can work if we and our governments can pursue her ventures with the type of commitment shown in the rehabilitation of the Abuja airport. And we mustn’t give up on her as long as she continues to provide us such evidence of its workability which, like a ray of light, can dispel the darkness of doubt threatening to envelope her.
There is also the lesson that, once convinced of the rightness of their plans, our governments must exercise the resolve to follow them through despite criticisms, provided they do not act outside the law and can show proof of the projected results in the long run as in the case of the Abuja airport.
Then there is the lesson that our public servants should be made to face the music for failing to deliver: The need to save themselves from the attendant shame can be a spur for personal success which can translate into success for our country. The fact is, but for the rare resolve to deliver reflected in Sirika’s pledge to resign if the airport was not reopened on schedule, its rehabilitation could have turned into another uncompleted project as we have scattered across our country, despite the resources committed to it, and we might have little or no choice but to whine helplessly and adjust to the resultant hardship afterwards.
Also, we should learn that countries are not much different from individuals. Most of them are fair-weather friends. In good times they will associate with us in pursuit of their interests and avoid us in difficult times or when they perceive our relationship to pose risks to them. Linked to this lesson is that we should prioritise our relationship with countries that show us the type of solidarity Ethiopia did by its airlines continuing to identify with us at such a critical time. And we cannot say that the solidarity was motivated by its commercial interests since those countries that would rather keep a safe distance from us by their airlines refusing to fly to the alternative Kaduna airport, unlike Ethiopian Airlines, also have commercial interests in our country, some far more than Ethiopia. The boycott by those other countries somewhat reflects the Igbo saying: “Ozu siwa ishi, enyi ka nwanne alaa.”: “When the corpse begins to smell, the friends that are greater than family take their leave.” So our country must strengthen her ties with such a genuinely friendly and supportive country as Ethiopia and others she may still discover if she wishes to rebound and make sustainable progress.
There is also the lesson that we can prove our critics wrong by acting decisively, efficiently and patriotically in our national interest. Actually, the decision by the other airlines not to utilise the Kaduna airport while the Abuja airport was under rehabilitation implied their being critical of the capacity of the Kaduna airport to serve as an alternative for the Abuja airport as an interim measure. Well, it did.
And there is the lesson that self-reliance and belief in our country and government are critical to our success. The support we seek from most foreign countries to help revive our power sector, for instance, may become like the type we got from their airlines in respect of the Kaduna airport, leaving us to work out our salvation ourselves as we must when the chips are down.
Then there is the lesson that funds must be applied to the projects for which they are appropriated, like those for the rehabilitation of the Abuja airport, and the projects executed in accordance with their deadlines and by competent hands as Julius Berger has proven to be in carrying out the rehabilitation.
The final lesson from the Abuja airport rehabilitation and timely reopening is that we have summarised the blueprint for our country’s renaissance as efficiency, and that we can have a far more functional country if we can replicate that efficiency with many more projects and in other sectors nationwide.
Oke, a poet and public affairs analyst, lives in Abuja.