Drama As Fashola, Senators, Experts Sharply Disagree Over Closure Of Abuja Airport

Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola and members of the upper legislative chamber have disagreed sharply, over plans to close the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja for six weeks.

While Senators yesterday insisted that the airport should offer skeletal services during repairs, Fashola insisted closure of the airport would be in the interest of Nigerians.

“For the benefit of Nigerians who may be listening, emphasis must be continuously made as a matter of fact that it is the runway of the airport where planes take off and land that needs to be repaired because it is no longer safe for that purpose.”

However, many senators who spoke on the issue disagreed with Fashola, and also insisted that the repair work can be done without outright closure of the airport.

Senator Bala Na’Allah wondered why some parts of the runway cannot be open for aircrafts to land and take off.  He said as an expert in aviation matters, it was possible to operate the airport, while repair works go on.

Senator Kabiru Gaya maintained it was possible to repair the airport and still allow aircrafts to land and take off.

He re-echoed the position made by some lawmakers last week that repair works should be carried out at night and during weekends, while aircrafts should be allowed to land and take off weekdays as well as during the day.

That aside, the multination construction company handling the project, Julius Berger and the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), also disagreed on the issue. 

While NSE President, Mr. Otis Anyaeji, said small aircrafts can land and take off from the airport during the period, Julius Berger disagreed.

Managing Director of the company, Mr. Wolfgang Goetsch, said it is impossible to allow aircrafts land and take off during the repairs and also, explained that, if the airport is allowed to accommodate aircrafts during the repairs, it will take over two years to complete the repair work.

But the NSE President, maintained that shutting the airport will mean closing down Nigeria. Anyaeji said as the only airport in Abuja, shutting it down will completely cut off Nigeria from the rest of the world.  “The runway can be reconstructed without closing the airport using segmented approach and knowing safety risk management procedures in line with ICAO guidelines. Aircrafts of B737 and below can use part of the runway while work is going on, on the other part.”

Senator Magnus Abe pointedly told delegates of the federal government that a decision has already been taken and that contributions and resolutions of the Senate will not be implemented. He said Senate intervention may end up as “an academic exercise” which may be dumped by the federal government.

Senator Solomon Adeola from Lagos said the money earmarked for logistics will be enough to repair the Kaduna-Abuja Road. According to him,  about N1.08 billion has been budgeted for the repair of Kaduna-Abuja Road. Adeola said rather than waste N1.1 billion on logistics during closure of Abuja airport, “the money should be spent on the repair of Kaduna-Abuja Road.

A representative of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Joshak Habila, who is in charge of Operations, said the Force will ferry Very Important Personalities (VIP) with three helicopters to and from Kaduna every day. Habila also revealed that 500 hilux vans and 500 special officers will be deployed to Kaduna-Abuja Road, within the period. 

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has released a breakdown of logistics to ferry passengers from Kaduna to Abuja. He said government is expected to spend about N1.1 billion on security and other logistics.

Sirika said government will spend N126 million on rail transportation, another N247 million will be given to the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), while the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) will get N358 million. The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) will get N325 million and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) will get N29 million.

Elsewhere, the federal government and foreign airlines have agreed to jointly inspect facilities at Kaduna International Airport, which will serve as alternative during the period.  This was part of the agreement reached yesterday at the meeting between Sirika and some foreign airlines operating in Nigeria. 

The meeting began at about 5:00pm and lasted till about 6:30pm. Abuja airport will be closed on March 8, 2017 and will be reopened on April 19, 2017.

It held at the Federal Ministry of Transportation headquarters Abuja and was attended by representatives of Ethiopia Airline, Air France, Lufthansa, Turkish Airline, Egypt Air, South African Airways and Emirates Airlines. 

Briefing journalists on the outcome of the meeting, the minister said, the international airlines raised series of questions which he was able to answer about 95 percent of them.

Key among the questions the foreign operators raised were; the capacity of the apron hangar to handle at least seven aircraft at a time, availability of fuel, catering services, boarding gates, and the communications system.

Also discussed was the various government agencies (Customs, Immigration, NDLEA, Civil Defense etc) capacity to move to the Kaduna Airport to ensure seamless operations.

He said, the FG was committed to making flying into Kaduna, the alternative airport safe and comfortable.

He said, the foreign airlines have also agreed to inspect facilities at the Kaduna Airport ahead of the commencement of operations even as he assured the government will deliver on the six weeks earlier announced to beat the rains.

He reiterated that the airport will be closed on March 8th 2017 and open April 19th, 2017 and not a day late.

Senators, in his remarks, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu urged representatives of the Federal Government to factor in contributions made by lawmakers before arriving at a final conclusion. 

He said: “Everyone has said that they would have preferred Abuja airport. While you are taking your decision, please, do not close all the options. We have provided you the opportunity to hear different opinions. You have the final say.” 

His colleague, Mao Ohuabunwa, condemned the huge sum of money earmarked for logistics. He said rather than spend the amount on logistics, the money should be used in fixing failed roads across the country.

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