The Senate yesterday ended a marathon debate on the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja but failed to persuade the executive arm of government to reverse it.
After the debate that lasted for two legislative sittings, the Senate, in a decision read out by its Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session declared: “The Senate prefers segmented repairs on the runway of the airport to avoid total closure. However, the minister of transportation could take decision based on technical advice provided by various stakeholders.”
Since the Senate has failed to push through the option of a partial closure of the airport or the use of the airport in Niger State, passengers who use the Abuja airport have to brace themselves for the inconveniences of going to Kaduna before getting to the federal capital. Aviation authorities whose revenues will be affected may have to also rejig their operations at the Abuja airport.
The lawmakers were told yesterday that the total cost of repairing the runway had risen to N6.934 billion.
This revelation came even as the contractor to carry out the rehabilitation gave conditions under which it would be able to complete it.
The Senate had been debating and interrogating key stakeholders on the wisdom of closing the airport while the repairs would last.
At the re-opening of the debate yesterday, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika informed the Senate that the total amount of money to be expended by government on the rehabilitation was N6.934 billion.
According to Sirika, the cost of preparations for the runway repair alone amounted to N1,134 billion while the actual rehabilitation would cost N5.8 billion.
Breaking down the preparation cost of N1.134 billion, Sirika said that the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) would get N1.3 million; N247 million for the Federal Road Safety Commission; N358.517 million for the Nigeria Police; N325 million for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps; N29 million for Nigeria Immigration Service; and N84 million for the Ministry of Transportation.
But the contractor, Messrs Julius Berger Ltd, said it might not be able to finish the work within the six months stipulated in the contract if some stakeholders in the project failed to fulfil their obligation.
The Managing Director of the company, Wolfgang Goetsch, said: “We guarantee that within these six weeks, the repair work is done subject to the fulfillment of the obligations of all stakeholders.
“I will just give one very simple example. We have two choppers, two big cargo airplanes fly in materials from overseas and the offloading and the customs clearance of these cargo airplanes of course are essential because time is of essence. Under the leadership of the minister of state for aviation, all stakeholders are on board. As I speak today, everything is going very smoothly according to plan and we have no doubt that the obligations of other stakeholders are fulfilled.”
In his own submission, Works, Power and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola announced that work had already begun on the rehabilitation of the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway which he said was awarded at the cost of N1.085 billion.
The Nigerian Society of Engineers, represented by its President, Otis Anyaeji, expressed its opposition to total closure of the airport.
He told the Senate that “the Society held a meeting with the relevant agencies yesterday, the outcome confirmed that it is possible to carry out the proposed reconstruction without shutting down the airport. The issue raised by the aviation agency is that the procedure is challenging, with risks. Therefore the issue is not technical but managerial.”
According to him, the Nigerian Society of Engineers recommended that the runway could be reconstructed without closing the airport, using segmented approach and known safety risk management procedures in line with ICAO guidelines. Aircraft of B737 and below can use part of the runway while work is going on on the other part.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Police said it had procured 500 Hilux vans and three helicopters to be used for security surveillance between Abuja and the Kaduna airports.
The Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Joshak Abila, who disclosed this during the debate at the Senate explained that the helicopters would be stationed in Minna, the Niger State capital.