* Flights to use small domestic airport at Kaduna
* Concerns about security on road to Abuja
* Economist calls decision 'catastrophic'
(Adds aviation minister's comments)
By Felix Onuah and Ulf Laessing
ABUJA/LAGOS, Dec 20 Nigeria will close the
airport in the capital Abuja for six weeks from February to
repair its badly damaged runway, the government said on Tuesday,
after airlines threatened to stop flying there.
Flights to Abuja will be diverted to Kaduna, an airport used
primarily for domestic flights and where airlines give out
handwritten boarding passes. Kaduna lies about 160 km (100
miles) to the north of the capital and is linked by a pot-holed
road where kidnappings have taken place.
"The impact (on the economy) will be catastrophic," said
Bismarck Rewane, a leading economist. "Kaduna airport does not
have the facilities."
"The road is very bad. There are kidnappings, Boko Haram,"
added Rewane, CEO of Lagos consultancy Financial Derivatives,
referring to the Islamist militant group. In July, Sierra
Leone's deputy high commissioner was kidnapped on the road
connecting Abuja and Kaduna.
Kaduna's international airport handled 12 flights in
December 2015, the last month for which Nigeria's airports
authority has figures, compared with 812 that used Abuja
Nigeria has delayed infrastructure investment for decades,
partly because of corruption which means money gets siphoned off
before projects can be completed.
Abuja airport, the main gateway to Nigeria along with the
commercial capital Lagos, will reopen after six weeks, but the
repairs will last six months, the transport ministry said.
Closing the airport would allow German company Julius Berger
to carry out "total reconstruction work on the badly damaged
airport runway," it said in a statement. The federal government
would provide security for bus shuttles to Kaduna airport.
Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika on Tuesday said Kaduna's
airport was well-equipped to handle the extra demand.
"It has a very robust, functional, effective runway. Those
facilities within Kaduna are enough and adequate for the traffic
within that period," he said.
In October, Dubai-based airline Emirates stopped flying to
Abuja, blaming the state of the runway among other factors,
according to the ministry.
Several airlines have reduced flights to the capital or
threatened to stop flying there unless the runway is fixed.
Lagos is Nigeria's biggest city but the government and
central bank are based in Abuja, some 750 km (450 miles) away.
There have been riots in Kaduna between a Shi'ite Muslim
sect and the majority Sunni population. Boko Haram militants
have also targeted Kaduna, although recently the army has pushed
(Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram and Paul Carsten;
Editing by Mark Trevelyan/Ruth Pitchford)