Frank Nweke Jr: EnuguAir: Lofty dream, misplaced priority

Spread the news

We have only one state in Nigeria with a functional airline. It is arguably one of the best in the country. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the state had a poverty rate of 28% when the airline was launched in 2019.

Today, the poverty rate is 71%, showing that there is no direct or substantial impact of airline ownership on poverty reduction. The other airline that existed in one of the southeast states operated for less than a year after its launch.

In September, Aviation Industry Stakeholders held a conference in Abuja to discuss the challenges besieging airlines in the country ranging from policy to infrastructural and safety inadequacies.

The high interest rates on loans, the forex crisis, dozens of charges by the government, and high costs of operations in Nigerian airports hamper airline profitability in the country, despite the potential for an increase in passenger traffic over the next decade. In Enugu State, 63.1% of our population live below the poverty limit (NBS, 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index Survey).

This means that over 2.6 million people live below $1, N775.75 (Exchange rate at the Import/Export window, October 16, 2023) a day, and have little access to food, basic health, education, and sanitary infrastructure.

EnuguAir is not the answer to their daily hunger. If the State continues in the direction as shared by the Commissioner of Transportation, Obi Ozor, a few days ago, it will be a case of placing the cart before the horse and expecting progress.

The data and our economic and fiscal conditions are not in favour of high-profile projects at the expense of basic human survival and dignity.

While the establishment of a storage and processing facility will facilitate export revenue from farm produce, the transportation can be achieved in partnership with existing airlines. It is also worth noting that in September, the United States travel advisory included Enugu State on the list of places to avoid in Nigeria for reasons of crime, kidnapping, and armed gang operations. Investors will only come to a place where they feel safe.

Channelling resources into a state-owned airline will be a misplaced priority when the state faces more immediate dangers and challenges. The state needs solutions that address immediate challenges, ensure security, build trust with the people, and pave a path for progressive and sustainable projects.

Available funds and public-private partnerships should be directed at urgent investments to ensure food security, reliable water supply, healthcare, power supply, schools, teacher training, skills and entrepreneurship development, and sanitary and road infrastructure.

While exact data is unavailable for road transport in Enugu State, the National Bureau of Statistics shows that road travel accounts for about 90% of the transport sector’s contribution to the national GDP. Air transport accounts for 6 to 7%. The ratio will be similar at the sub-national level. This is not surprising.

With airfare at N130,000 for a round-trip to Enugu, minimum wage at N30,000 per month, and an unemployment rate of 31.16% (NBS, 2020 survey), more individuals will embrace a cheaper, albeit more arduous and time-consuming road transport as a preferred travel option.

The available data and economic reality of the majority of our citizens support the prioritization of road infrastructure development in budget and economic planning. Highfalutin projects and captivating headlines without direct improvements in the human condition are not a viable economic development strategy. We must prioritise our people.

The sun will rise again. Our glory will be restored. Our state will be rebuilt. May we live to see the reigniting of the coal city. God bless you. God bless Enugu State.

Frank Nweke Jr, a former information minister, hails from Enugu State

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *