A showdown between the executive and the legislative arms of the federal government appears imminent over the proposed six weeks closure for repairs of the Nnamidi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Although the Senate had on Tuesday advised against the proposed closure, the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, told the upper legislative chamber yesterday that the executive would be unable to take its advice to explore alternative ways of effecting the needed repairs at airport without shutting it down.
The House of Representatives on its part was, however, divided over the issue, opting to invite Sirika to come and make further clarifications on the matter.
Sirika, who was accompanied to the chamber by the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, told the senators that among all options available for adoption for the repair, closure was the most viable.
Although Federal legislators have been very critical of the proposed closure of the airport, arguing that it would bring untold hardship to air travellers, they would, however, be unable to stop the executive from going ahead with its plan since the decision is the prerogative of the latter.
Amaechi later left the chamber without making any submission. Sirika also disclosed that whereas the runway would be shut for only six weeks, the entire airport would be shut for six months.
According to Sirika, the option of repairing a part of the runway while using the other, was not explored, explaining that while the entire runway is being used, there have been several cases of pilots overshooting the runway. He said the situation would be worse if only half of it would be available for use because it could lead to accidents.
Sirika who disclosed that the project would cost N5.8 billion with the exclusion of the cost of logistics, added that the logistics would involve the provision of buses and helicopters to convey passengers from the Abuja Airport to Kaduna and vice versa at the cost of the government.
The minister who also disclosed that the government of President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2015, approved N1.2 billion for the repair of the runway without considering total closure, said after integrity test was carried out by this administration, the government found that the N1.2 billion earlier voted for the project by the immediate past government would no longer be sufficient to execute it.
He also said another option available was to use the taxi way which he said would involve only the closure of the airport in the night. However, he said the option could not also be explored because it is the entire runway that needs to be repaired while the taxi way can only accommodate smaller aircraft.
He said if the option was adopted, the effects would be disastrous. Sirika, therefore, said it was the consensus of consultants engaged by the ministry and other ministry officials that closing the airport was the best option for now.
According to him, the runway had failed beyond management, pointing out that it had initially been designed to last for 20 years in 1982, noting that it is only being considered for repair now 14 years after the expiration of its lifespan.
He explained that the total closure had therefore become imminent in view of several accidents which had happened on the runway, some of which he said involved international airlines such as the Air France.
He also rejected the option of engaging multiple number of contractors to hasten the execution of the work and ensure faster delivery, arguing that doing so would only be more risky and cumbersome.
However, the senators reminded the minister of the rejection of the planned closure of the airport by the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), a body of professionals and experts which they felt should know better.
Against this background, the minister was asked to go back and consult members of the NSE, consider the option of constructing a second runway, come up with the cost of logistics during the repair and return to the Senate next Tuesday with results.
House of Reps Divided
The House of Representatives was, however, sharply divided yesterday over the matter.
The lawmakers, therefore, summoned the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika and his team to appear before the House Committee on Aviation, to provide convincing argument on why there are no alternatives to the complete closure of the airport.
The resolution followed a motion sponsored by Hon. Olufunke Adedoyin (Kwara APC) who called for a halt to the planned closure, and consideration of alternative methods to carrying out the renovation.
“There exists new technologies that can be applied in such a way that the repair works can be undertaken at night, over the six weeks period while the airport remains in operation during the day time given that the earlier scheduled flights into the airport arrive at 5.30am,” she said.
Adedoyin further argued that the re-routing of air travellers through Kaduna would subject them to danger of armed robberies, kidnappings and other sundry crimes along the Kaduna – Abuja Highway.
Her position was backed by Hon. Daniel Reyeneiju (Delta PDP), who said to rehabilitate a runway was not ‘rocket science’, but an exercise that could be executed at specific hours.
Hon. Hassan Saleh (Benue APC) opined that there was an ulterior motive to the position of the executive.
“There is more to relocating airlines to Kaduna than just resurfacing the runway. Even local contractors like Julius Berger can handle it,” he said.
Hon. Ayo Omidiran (Osun APC) who is a member of the Committee on Aviation, disclosed that she was part of the stakeholders’ meeting organised by the ministry recently.
“It is painful that the stakeholders were not carried along in the decision making process, and right there at the meeting, they expressed their discontent with the decision. Some of the representatives of the NSE (Nigerian Society of Engineers) said they know how it can be done without closing the airport, “Omidiran said.
Several lawmakers opposed the motion, particularly lawmakers from Kaduna State such as Hon. Muhammed Garba Datti, and Hon. Chanchangi.
Hon. Adams Jagaba (Kaduna APC) said Abuja airport ranked among the worst in the world, and that the planned rehabilitation would elevate its status.
“There is no international disgrace more than the potholes on what we call a runway…there is no alternative than Kaduna, Kaduna is a shorter distance than Minna,” he argued.
Hon. Aminu Suleiman (Kano APC) said the Federal Government could not have arrived at its decision without consulting experts.
He added that the elites are opposed to the closure of the airport because they do not want to be subjected to the rigours of road travels.
“The problem is that people do not want to travel by road to Kaduna. But airports are shut down for days when aviation workers go on strike. God forbid we are part of a decision that could lead to a disaster,” he said.
Referring the matter to the Aviation Committee following a voice vote, Speaker Yakubu Dogara urged that some pertinent questions be raised.
“Is it possible for us to repair the runway without closing the airport? If we must close the airport, are there better alternatives than Kaduna? These are questions we have to provide answers to,” Dogara urged.
Fresh Ambassadorial List
Also yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari sent a new list of non-career ambassadorial nominees to the Senate. The Senate had late last year returned the earlier list sent to it by Buhari without giving any reason.
In the new list, the president dropped Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora (Lagos) and replaced former National Secretary of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Dr. Usman Bugaje (Katsina) and former Deputy Governor of Plateau State, Mrs. Pauline Tallen.
Bugaje and Tallen had earlier rejected their appointments. But the president retained a former Supreme Court Judge, Justice George Oguntade on the list.
The president also acceded to the demand of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for nomination on the list.
The nominees on the new list are: Dr. Uzoma Ememke (Abia State), Aminu Iyawa (Adamawa), Maj.Gen. Godwin Umo (rtd.) (Akwa Ibom), Christopher Okeke (Anambra), Yusuf Tuggar (Bauchi), Baba Madugu (Bauchi), Brig.-Gen. Stanley Diriyai (rtd.) (Bayelsa), Steven Ugba (Benue), Baba Ahmad Jidda (Borno) and Dr. Etubom Asuquo (Cross River).
Also on the list are Francis Efeduma (Delta), Jonah Odo (Ebonyi), Uyagwe Igbe (Edo), Eniola Ajayi (Ekiti), Maj.Gen. Chris Eze (rtd.) (Enugu), Suleiman Hassan (Gombe), Justice Sylvanus Nsofor (Imo), Amin Muhammad Dalhatu (Jigawa), Nuhu Bamalli (Kaduna), Deborah Iliya (Kaduna), Prof. D. Abdulkadir (Kano), Haruna Ungogo (Kano), Justice lsa Dodo (Katsina), Mohammadu Barade (Katsina), Tijjani Bande (Kebbi), Prof. Y. O. Aliu (Kogi) and Nuruddeen Mohamed (Kwara).
Others are Mohamed Yisa (Kwara), Justice George Oguntade (rtd.)(Lagos), Modupe Irele (Lagos), Musa Muhammad (Nasarawa), Ahmed Ibeto (Niger), Suzanne Folarin (Ogun), Jacob Daodu (Ondo), Afolahan Adeyemi (Osun), Maj. Gen. Ashimiyu Olaniyi (rtd.) (Oyo),James Dimka (Plateau) and Dr. Haruna Abdullahi (Plateau).
Also on the list are Orji Ngofa (Rivers), Sahabi Gada (Sokoto), Kabiru Umar (Sokoto), Hassan Ardo (Taraba), Goni Bura (Yobe), Garba Gajam (Zamfara) Cpt. Bala Mairiga (Zamfara), Habiss Ugbada (FCT).