Uche Usim, Abuja

Call it their unforgettable Christmas package from government and you are absolutely right. December 20, 2018 will remain golden for the people of Bassa Village and other host communities of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja.

On that day, President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the first airport terminal in West Africa to be linked by a rail transport system. The airport is projected to process 15 million passengers annually.

The joy of the host communities was understandable because as largely agrarian people, having easy access to rail was sufficient guarantee that in future, their farm produce can get to larger markets in neighbouring states and even overseas at cheaper freight rates.

President Buhari (m) and others at the commissioning

They were also joyous because the terminal building and the rail station provide room for more jobs for them; as some slots are usually reserved for the host communities to fill.

The facility will also attract more businesses like duty free, cleaning companies, catering, hotel, boutiques, bureau de change and more, which the communities can easily explore.

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Ali Ahmed, a farmer, said he was excited when he learnt a new terminal building connected to a rail service was to be commissioned at NAIA:

“It is good news for us. I can now use train to move my maize and millet in sacks to town and madala market. It may not be now, but there is hope that it will happen in future.

“When you charter a car or bus, the cost is too high. But now, when train for goods come, it will be much cheaper for us.”

A trader, Mrs. Beatrice Danladi, said: “Now, we have a much cheaper way to move to town. A car takes N3,000 at the cheapest to take one to town from here. At times, you need to wait for a long time to get the taxi. No bus shuttle here.

“But now, we are hopeful a train service is coming to make things easier for us. We are not rich people here and so we have for long desired a train service. It is certainly a welcome development for us here.”

Mahmoud Isa, a businessman said: “I’m working with fellow businessmen. We want to have a business here at the new terminal. It’s a chance to make it back home since we’re from Bassa. This project is dare to our hearts. We shall protect it. We have so much to gain from it.”

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Although the commissioning ceremony was slated for 10am but long before then, the airport already wore an electrifying ambience.

The atmosphere was ecstatic and was further beautified by the bright weather. As guests who came from far and near eagerly awaited the President’s arrival, some cultural troupes entertained them with colourful performances.

Everyone seemed happy to be part of the history making event. At 10:23am, Buhari and his entourage arrived. He described the terminal building as a fulcrum on which a new economic frontier of Nigeria would revolve. He added that the NAIA, with a new terminal linked rail service, has been placed on a strategic position on the regional travel map of Africa:

“This event represents yet another significant milestone for international air travellers in and out of the Federal Capital Territory.

“With the commissioning of this terminal, Nigeria is moving towards achieving and meeting global aviation standards in facilitation, passenger processing and service delivery in tandem with international best practices.

“This administration recognises aviation as a catalyst for economic growth and as such will continue to encourage and support the actualization of projects that will place Nigerian Airports amongst the best in the world.

“This event today, reflects government’s deliberate policy to sustain the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure. We are gradually closing the infrastructural deficit bedevilling our country.”

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Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the new terminal building has 72 check-in counters; five baggage collection carousels, 28 immigration desks at arrival and 16 at departure, eight security screening points, eight passenger boarding bridges and walkway to link the FCT metro rail:

“It also has additional apron for remote parking of aircraft, linkway to domestic wing and many other facilities that are properly designed and laid out in accordance with modern requirements for airport operations.”

He said the phase two takes into cognisance, additional facilities that will enhance airport efficiency: “These include but not limited to construction of additional apron, multi-level car park, fire station, additional boarding bridges, connection between the old and the new terminals, facility and boarding bridge to accommodate Airbus

“The phase two also includes completion of Kano and Lagos terminals”. In his goodwill message, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian said China was glad to be part of the infrastructural renewal drive of
Nigeria. Nigeria needs roads, water and other infrastructure to get to the next level. This terminal building is the biggest in West Africa.”