Lawmakers tango with stakeholders over concessions, closure of Abuja airport

The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika

The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika

• Decisions reached before involving us, say legislators

There seems no end in sight over lingering disagreements between members of House of Representatives and major stakeholders in the aviation sector over a number of troubling issues in the sector.The more the lawmakers try to understand the wisdom of the Ministries of Transportation, Aviation and Finance in rolling out policies for the sector, the more confused and frustrated they appear.

From the ministries, critical agencies and stakeholders’ standpoint, consultations may have been duly carried out, hence needless to seek views of the legislature. In their opinion, this appears to be the most appropriate way of going about it.

Findings have shown that in considering the option of seeking legislative consents, some proposals, no matter how good-intentioned they appear to the executive, could be resisted and in the process, time would be lost and tempers flared at such forums.

At the beginning of this administration, when the Ministry of Aviation began the consideration of concessions of airports as a way of sanitizing the sector and improving air transport services, it expanded consultations with all stakeholders, including the House Committee on Aviation.

It was dissatisfaction with the plan that prompted the House committee to kick against it when it was time to consider the implementation.The House leadership quickly ordered a probe into the plan and at the end of it all, the committee headed by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha came up with a 41-page report, criticizing the plan and requested the Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika to appear before them to explain how the plan would remedy the lingering challenges in the aviation sector.

They also called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate alleged diversion of N120billion aviation intervention fund provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2012, as well as compelled the appearance of the apex bank’s governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele before the House, along with local and foreign airline operators to explain the bank’s intervention, regarding foreign exchange crises in the industry.

Besides quarrelling with the modalities for the implementation, the lawmakers also hinged their opposition on the airports concessions plan on a pending matter on concession agreement in the Supreme Court between Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Bi- Courtney.

At the time, some staff of airlines in the country were protesting non payments of salaries; some foreign airlines were withdrawing their flight services in the country due to forex controversies and domestic airlines were reducing flights owing to low patronage and high cost of aviation fuel.Months later, those resolutions have not been adhered to, even as Onyejeocha blames the non-adherence to the newness of the Clerk of the House.

However, it must be noted that the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) approved a former deputy clerk of the House of Representatives, Mr. Edhere Uzezi Basil in September last year as substantive clerk of the House.

The substantive clerk of National Assembly, Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori emerged a month earlier.Reacting to the delay in carrying out the resolutions of the House, alongside several others concerning other committees of the House that have not been carried out, Onyejeocha said Basil is yet to ‘settle down sufficiently to convey the House resolutions to the appropriate quarters.’

Based on the report, Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) was to also appear to highlight their strategies in resuscitating Aero Contractors airline.Aero Contractors and many local and foreign airlines have, for months, been facing challenges associated with high cost operations particularly scarcity of aviation fuel in the country.

Legislators further enjoined Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to immediately make the fuel available at affordable prices and to refine the product, otherwise known as Jet A 1 regularly.

While the House was still weighing options on dealing with the matters, the Ministries of Transportation and Aviation announced plans to shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for six weeks, commencing on March 8, 2017 to pave way for renovation of the runway and construct a second runway.

The announcement did not go down well with the lawmakers, who complained that they were sidelined in taking the decision.But a member of the Aviation committee, Ayo Omidiran (APC, Osun) disclosed that the committee members were actually called in as stakeholders, though after the decision had been reached.

Dissatisfied, the House suggested that the relevant authorities should avail lawmakers with more explanations on the proposal and say if the options of working on the runway at night while still using the airport in the day and shelving the construction to a later date could suffice.

This was during a debate on a motion brought before them by Hon. Olufunke Adedoyin (APC, Kwara). She was particularly worried that closure of the airport would slow down foreign investments.Those who also opposed the closure feared the spate of insecurities on most highways in the country. Only recently, there had been killings and destruction of property in Southern Kaduna, affecting free flow of traffic on roads.

To prove government’s commitment to the decision, Sirika announced government’s vote of N5.8 billion for the project. It has earlier voted N1.1 billion for the repair of the Kaduna- Abuja road, where air travellers would be plying upon landing in Kaduna to get to Abuja.

He explained that the complete closure has to be effected because the entire architecture of the runway from bottom to top has collapsed and is totally unsafe to continue to use the runway, insisting that the action taken “is the best, right and in the interest of Nigerians.”

The Minister disclosed that the other options were to close the airport by midnight daily and open it by 6am; and divide the runway into parts, but he argued that these options would not work.

“We have to do the right thing. As far as we are concerned, the runway has failed and the best option is to close it for six weeks. I’m an Aviator and I know what it takes to close an airport.“This administration with safety and security as its priority, has decided to face the problem head-on. The cooperation of all stakeholders is, therefore, required to enable us go through this transition period with minimal discomfort,” he stated.

Sirika is expected to appear before the Senate tomorrow with more details on the decision of government to completely shut down and renovate the Abuja airport runway.The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola as well as officials of Julius Berger Nigeria, the contracting firm handling the project, are also expected to appear before the legislators.

Besides, he noted that the ministry preferred Kaduna airport as alternative to other airports (Minna Airport in Niger State, Yakubu Gowon Airport in Jos and Ilorin Airport in Kwara) also considered close to Abuja, because they did not meet the criteria set by the Federal Government as alternative airports.

Runways are constructed of man-made material, usually asphalt, concrete or a combination of both. The choice of pavement material comes down to local ground conditions, the type of aircraft using the facility and cost. Concrete is widely used at major commercial airports. Although it’s more costly than asphalt, a full concrete surface is more durable and has a longer lifespan, it was gathered.

On why the government is concerned about the repair of the road in consideration of air travellers who would be using the road up till early June this year when the runway construction at Abuja airport would be over, Area Manager, International Air Transport Association (IATA), Samson Fatokeen promised in a telephone chat, to state the association’s position through a statement.

As the top echelons in the aviation sector tighten up loose ends in the rolling out of the concessions and Abuja airport closure plan, if any, Nigerians are expecting the lawmakers’ next line of action.

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