The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, Tuesday appeared before the Senate lending support to the decision for a closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, for the repair of the runway, saying of all the choices available in the matter, safety consideration was paramount.
Fashola, who said his Ministry came into the matter of the airport closure to play a supportive and complementary role, told the Senate that although there would be inconveniences in the six weeks it would take to complete the rehabilitation of the runway, but where there were choices between safety and inconvenience, safety must take precedence.
Explaining that the runway of the airport needed repairs, Fashola declared, “By extension, therefore, it means that the airport cannot be used. It seems to be a very simple point but it is a point that members of the public should be made aware of that the runway is no longer safe. So this is a matter of immense public safety. This is the primary purpose for which governments exist”.
Noting that the intention of the Executive arm was neither to present a fait accompli nor an immutable position to the public, the Minister further explained that having deeply explored the positions, the Ministry of Aviation was able to convince the Federal Executive Council that given the many existing options, each of which, according to him, has consequences, total closure was the best solution also in terms of cost, in terms of time and in terms of an enduring solution.
Acknowledging that one of the issues that have agitated the minds of Nigerians, especially regular users of the airport, was the inconveniences that would result during the period of closure, Fashola added, “Let me say very clearly that I sympathise with those who will be affected, including not the least many of us who travel. But nevertheless my view is that where there are choices between inconvenience and safety, that safety must prevail”.
The Minister, who listed the Philippines, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka as countries that have closed their airports for various reasons in the past, added, “Nigeria is not the first country to close an airport and to divert traffic either to another airport or another city”, adding, “This accord with the uncompromising safety standards in the Aviation Industry that has made flying the safest form of travelling when operators play by the rules”.
He commended the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who, according to him, is a certified Pilot, “for his openness and commitment to the safety of life” adding that the Minister of State deserved all the support he could get in accomplishing the project.
“And I couldn’t be happier than to hear the President of the Senate saying this morning that the decision whether to repair the runway is now a moot point, that the decision really was what the best approach would be”, Fashola said adding, “I like to emphasized also that the right to life, and this is important also in making the ultimate decision, that the right to life guaranteed in the constitution means nothing if Government does not take this kind of pre-emptive actions to forestall and prevent loss of life”.
The Minister also commended the Senators for their intervention in discharging their representational duties to their various constituents, reiterating that it was important that members of the public get the right information that planes could no longer land safely on the runway until after the necessary rehabilitations.
Fashola also used the opportunity to clarify the role being played by the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing as totally supportive.
“It is not that there are no alternatives, but we have to make those choices and my role in my Ministry is totally supportive. We are not leading them so if they say that they want us to stop, we have no interest in the matter beyond the way the Police will come to give collaboration, beyond the way other agencies are coming to give collaboration. We were called into the meeting when this problem became a matter of urgent national consideration and we volunteered that we would give all the support to restore the road.”
On the choice of Kaduna, instead of Minna Airport, as the alternative airport while the rehabilitation lasts, Fashola explained that given the current conditions of both roads, the Kaduna-Abuja Highway currently lent itself more to the kind of emergency intervention to restore it to motorability within the short time assigned for the completion of the rehabilitation.
The Minister explained, “While the road distance from Minna to Abuja is about 156 kilometres and Kaduna to Abuja is about 186 kilometres (a difference of 30 kilometres or thereabouts), I have driven on both roads recently and the Kaduna-Abuja road is in much better condition than Minna-Abuja, and lends itself more quickly to the implementation of this kind of emergency repairs”.
The Minister, who reiterated that his Ministry came into the matter in a complementary and supportive role also added that the Abuja-Minna Road was also currently under procurement. He explained that though the contractor was currently having difficulty with his financing, the issues would eventually be resolved and the road fixed.
The Minister also disclosed that in anticipation that Kaduna Airport would be the alternative airport, his Ministry utilized the provisions of the emergency provisions of the Public Procurement Act to seek and obtain the approval of the Bureau of Public Procurement for the emergency rehabilitation of the bad sections of the Kaduna-Abuja Highway at a cost of N1.058Billion.
He said although the contractor, Messrs CGC Nigeria Limited, has moved to site since the 7th of January 2017 and has proposed that it would be finished in 50 days ending thereabouts on the 28th of February from the work plan that they have submitted to the Ministry, they have not yet been paid but their presence was already visible on that road.
“They have moved men and materials to site and this is the consequence of the confidence that has begun to come back to the construction industry since the implementation of the 2016 Budget that you passed”, he told the Senate adding, however that they were asking for a 50 per cent down payment which, which according to him, “the Procurement Law does not permit to make; which is also a matter that is pending before different Committees of the House to amend the Procurement Act”.
“As to the choice between Kaduna and Minna Airports, I believe that the Minister of State for Aviation has explained that Kaduna is the default alternative Airport for Abuja bound flights when a fight plan was being considered for approval. I think he made that point from what I heard”, he said.
Also acknowledging the inconveniences that Nigerian will experience during the period, Fashola, however advised, “This is also perhaps a time for us to adapt so that we can be safe”, suggesting that the eight-weeks’ notice given by the Ministry of Aviation should be utilised for the Airport users to , alter some of their prescheduled programmes ahead of the closure or until after the closure adding that they could also employ available technology such as skype or e-mail, sms and teleconferencing among others.