The last time this reporter flew to Port Harcourt International Airport was over four years ago when he went to cover the now rested Rivers State Festival of Arts and Culture (RIVIFEST).
Then the existing terminal building was out of use and billed for extensive renovation. A makeshift structure, made mainly of tarpaulin was put in place for processing passengers and baggage.
Shortly after this, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan introduced the remodelling of five of the nation’s airports, these were: Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
Work had since been completed in three of these airports, Kano, Enugu and Lagos while that of Abuja is still ongoing with the local wing now dedicated solely to private and chartered flights.
It was a rude shock flying into Port Harcourt International Airport last week Tuesday (December 27, 2016) night to discover that the terminal building was still condoned off and gathering moss.
It presented a sad tale and a picture of decrypt and abandoned structure. Perhaps the only sign of something happening there was the freshly laid canvass covering stretching across a section of the abandoned building bearing the name of the construction company, Inter Bau.
Passengers and baggage are still being processed through the makeshift structures, one for local use and another for international use.
One couldn’t bear to witness the unfolding scenery with the volume of passengers coming through the airport.
On this night some returning pilgrims from Edo and Anambra states were among the international passengers that came through the airport, all crammed into the suffocating tarpaulin with many gasping for breath.
A more confusing and pitiable sight was that of passengers left to their fate scrambling for their baggage, which were brought to an open space beside the abandoned terminal building while some of the baggage where discharged directly on the open flying field.
It took hours for many of the passengers to sort out their baggage and that included members of our team as some of them had their baggage destroyed as a result of the confusion and madness.
It was difficult explaining the bizarre situation occasioned by the shameful state of the airport and the fact that the few personnel on hand were overwhelmed, to the foreign delegates who jeered and sneered at us for flying them through an abandoned airport.
One was completely disheartened by this poor state of affair as the only possibly explanation given by one of the Federal Airport of Nigerian Authority (FAAN) personnel, was that of bad politics by the former President Goodluck Jonathan and former governor Rotimi Amaechi, for the state of the airport.
Politics or no politics, the fact remains that we don’t have a government in this country who understands the economic importance of tourism (Travel and Aviation) and the image branding leverage derived from it.
To think that for years the Federal Government and FAAN would allow the airport to remain in that poor state tells of the high level of irresponsibility on the part of our leaders and the high disdain to which they hold our national patrimony.
Otherwise there is no good reason for the Federal Government to have abandoned the airport, which according to the FAAN official, process on the average over 1, 000 passengers daily, and that is huge revenue for the government.
FAAN has become like the Red Sea, which only collects revenue but don’t have the authority to expend same revenue on the maintenance of the same facilities from which the huge revenue was collected yearly.
Port Harcourt International Airport is a big eye sore and a shame to the image of this country. The Federal Government and the Minister of State for Aviation Hadi Sirika should as a matter of urgency and national importance declare a state of emergency at the airport and deploy men and resources to fix the airport if there is no money for it then the airport should be completely shut down.
At least international operation should cease forthwith and allow only for the domestic operation since we as a people are not ashamed of our failings and ineptitude.
Because it is unfair to continue to subject international passengers to the oddity that the airport is and the danger that it portends. For no sane country with equally sane leaders would for one day allow such an airport to be in operation.