Despite concerted efforts by the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to convince members of the Senate on the necessity to shut down the Abuja International Airport in order to repair its runway, the lawmakers appear apprehensive of the proposed move.
Tuesday’s Ministerial briefing at the floor of the Senate had more government officials in attendance, including the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the Managing Director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN; the Managing Director of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA; the President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE; a representative of the Inspector-General of Police, and the Managing Director of Julius Berger Nigeria.
The NSE had told the hearing that it believes that the runway repairs could be carried out without necessarily shutting down the Airport totally.
President of the NSE, Oliver Anyaeji, said that a segmented approach could be employed and the Taxi Way be upgraded into a runway for smaller aircraft.
This position was supported by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the proceedings; but the MD of Julius Berger, Wolfgang Goetsch, said that the plan was not feasible as most of the aircraft were too big.
He also said that the company had considered the option of working in the night and allowing flight operations to continue during the day, but the work pace would be slow and may affect the six-week deadline.
Aviation Minister, Sirika had told the Senate last week Thursday that the cost of repairs of the runway would be N5.8 billion, but he added on Tuesday that another N1.3 billion would be expended on ensuring a smooth transition for passengers who would be conveyed from the Kaduna Airport to Abuja.
According to Sirika, over N358 million will go to the police; NSCDC – N325 million; Nigerian Immigration Service – N29.2 million; Ministry of Transportation – N84 million; FRSC – N237 million, and the Nigerian Railway Corporation – N100 million.
Speaking on the development, Magnus Abe, a lawmaker from Rivers State recalled the “horror” experienced by citizens in Rivers State during the two and a half year closure of the Port Harcourt International Airport in 2006.
He sounded pessimistic on whether the ministerial briefing will yield any result, as according to him, the federal government seem to have made a decision on the issue and are not interested in whatever the senate had to say.
Another lawmaker, John Enoh, wanted to know whether the cost for the runway repairs was captured in the 2016 budget or where was the money coming from? But the aviation minister revealed that the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan had budgeted for the repairs.
On the issue of security along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Hassan Mohammed told the hearing that he passed through the road on Monday and was surprised to see only two police vans.
He added that despite the heavy traffic situation on the road due to ongoing repair works, no staff of the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, was seen on the road.
Shehu Sani, a Kaduna State lawmaker sounded more optimistic. He expressed support for the Airport closure, but insisted that the aviation ministry must assure Nigerians that the Kaduna Airport will be safe and that the closure will not last for more than six weeks.
He also said that the security concerns as well as engineering issues raised during the hearing should be treated with utmost importance.
The Senate Majority leader, Ahmed Lawan, expressed displeasure that the Senate was not carried along in the decision to close down the Abuja Airport.
“If the Senate was properly consulted, the aviation committee would have sat and done this work,” he said.
He also suggested that relevant Senate committees should monitor all the parastatals that would be involved in ferrying people from Kaduna to Abuja.
In his final submission, the aviation minister in his experience as a former Senator and Pilot assures all the lawmakers and all Nigerians of safety during the Abuja Airport closure.
Sirika added that he would be happy not only to complete the repair of the runway, but also to achieve a second runway for the Airport.
After a lengthy deliberation, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu,said that the Senate prefers a Segmented Repair Approach to a total closure of the Abuja Airport.
He however added that it would allow the Ministry of Transportation to make a final decision based on technical advice.