Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, on Thursday briefed members of the Senate on the issues surrounding the decision of the federal government to close down the Abuja Airport for six weeks in order to repair its runway.
During the Ministerial briefing, transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, craved the lawmakers’ indulgence to allow Sirika, to address the session.
In his speech, Sirika told the legislators that it was important that the repairs on the Abuja Airport runway be carried out now in order to avoid a major catastrophe in the Nation’s aviation sector.
He reminded the session that the runway was constructed in 1982 and had a lifespan of 14 years which means it has extended its lifespan.
“To continue to operate the Airport runway will be unsafe, unreasonable as there is a daily occurrence of incidents,” the minister said.
One of such incidents Sirika narrated occurred “On the 8th of January this year. A plane landed in Abuja which ruined the tyre and now the plane can no longer fly.”
Another incident led to an aircraft belonging to AirFrance breaking a landing gear when it landed in Abuja Airport.
Throwing more light on the choice of the Kaduna Airport as an alternative, the minister explained that “every flight plan always have alternate landing route and it has always been Kaduna for Abuja.”
He added that the Senators representing Kaduna will attest to the safety of the Airport.
Sirika further disclosed that government is taking various steps to ensure that the Airport in Kaduna is upgraded and security along the Kaduna-Abuja route enhanced.
He said that “Train services and executive bus services along with helicopter will be provided” to convey Abuja passengers from Kaduna.
Also government will provide Military, Police and helicopter patrols, as well as upgrade clinics along the Abuja/Kaduna route.
The minister also told the lawmakers that Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State has been conducting sensitization programmes to educate the people of the state on the forthcoming development.
On the many alternatives being suggested by many Nigerians against totally shutting down the Abuja airport, Sirika said he has read most of them on the social media and none of them would work as most aircrafts are “too big.”
He assured that government is putting everything in place to ensure that the airport closure does not last a day longer than six weeks.
“We’ll ensure contractors are diligent; we are adding additional N150Million to cover the rollers, cable, the light and others,” he said.
“This is to ensure we don’t exceed the six weeks period by a day.”
The minister said government wants to avoid a repeat of what happened at the Port Harcourt Airport which at one time was shut down for two and a half years because the maintenance was not done in time.
When one of the lawmakers, Hope Uzodimma, informed the Minister that the Nigerian Society of Engineers has complained of not being consulted about the planned runway repairs, Sirika assured that “ local engineers and indigenous companies will be engaged so as to put the money back into our economy.”
Kogi State lawmaker, Dino Melaye, said that it was an unacceptable mistake on the part of the Minister not to have involved the Senate’s aviation committee in the discussions from the outset.
He also decried the dangerous nature of the Abuja-Kaduna route.
“Kidnappers are already celebrating on the road of Kaduna,” he said.”Mr Minister, save our lives, save our money, look for alternatives.”
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu advised the aviation Minister to channel efforts into constructing a second runway at the Abuja Airport.
This position was seconded by Godswill Akpabio who said “it’s better to build a second runaway rather than spend Millions to renovate old ones that were recently repaired.”
Senate President Bukola Saraki, in conclusion said the aviation Minister will have to come back on Tuesday “to allow him provide more accurate figures and to allow other Senators contribute.”