Says national carrier ready this year as FG sheds light on proposed closure of Abuja airport
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
This year’s first Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, was held in Abuja yesterday. It approved the completion of Kaduna terminal building with the cost shooting up from about N500 million to N1.1 billion due to inflation.
Highlight of the meeting was that aviation officials would be allowed to carry weapons to ensure safety at airports.
He said: “We are very serious about aviation security. Just last week, the President approved that aviation security should bear arms, so we are trying to make them take the form and shape of TSA of the US with K-9 dogs, handcuffs, guards, batons, light weapons, etc. The Minister of Interior is helping us in that regard with the directive of Mr. President. They are partnering us and other stakeholders to keep our airports secure. All these will be unveiled at the next stakeholders meeting.”
This is even as it explained why the Abuja airport must be closed for six weeks, saying the runway may cave in because it has exceeded its life span by 14 years.
The government said the runway was designed for 20 years to cater for not more than 100,000 passengers per annum, but was currently doing over five million passengers.
Briefing State House Correspondents after the meeting, the Minister of State, Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, said the completion of the Kaduna terminal building will be within six months, to which the contractor has accepted to stick to.
He said the contract was first awarded in 2011 and work commenced in 2012.
According to him, “during the rehabilitation of the terminal building, a contractor noticed some structural damages to the building itself and then increased the scope of what to be done to put it to use and that necessitated the variation of contract sum.
“The cost of variation is in excess of 15 per cent, it had to go to the then President Goodluck Jonathan for approval anticipation, that was approved and they went to Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP). So, we brought it to the council today (yesterday) to ratify and of course, taking into cognisance the exchange rate and inflation that has increased the cost of completion of the terminal building from N500 million plus in 2011 to N1.1billion plus today. This is just for the terminal buildings and not the runway”.
On the possibility of managing the closure of Abuja Airport and construction of Kaduna terminal without crisis in the sector, Sirika assured that the airport has an elaborate terminal robust enough to take the passengers for the six weeks operations.
“It will not hinder it, it will not stop them also from working. It may also be a bonus if the contractor is able to run through and finish the project before March, but whether it finishes or not, it will not affect the operations.”
On whether the VIPs will be excepted from the closure of Abuja, the minister said, “the airport will be totally closed for six weeks, the construction and rehabilitation works is for six months. Within that six months there is a window of six weeks that the airport will be closed.
“It is important we inform you guys that whether we shut down now or not, the runway is on its way to shutting down itself. We are all witnesses to how Port Harcourt runway shut down itself. The Port Harcourt runway was folding like mat, it was caving like deep gully erosion and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) was busy patching until one night it caved in and Air France landed, it destroyed their landing gear and bursted their tyres and after the repairs, the airport was closed for two and a half years until recently. You will soon see tremendous amount of improvement.
Speaking on a national carrier, the minister said, “when we came in, we were very clear on our targets and goals and what we set out to achieve and we did say that Nigeria does need a national airline. The national airline will be one that the government will have no hand in, normally, it can have three per cent. It will be private sector-led, private sector-driven. Except with the Ethiopian airline, it has been proven that government doesn’t do well with this kind of venture. We are going to have a national carrier, it is on course and because it is a PPP thing, it has to go through IC and C, and also has to follow all the due process. So, it is time-consuming, but I hope very soon before the end of the year, we will have a very strong viable national airline.