Despite vehement opposition by majority of senators to the plan by the Federal Government to Shut down the local and international airports in Abuja for repair of the runway, the Senate on Tuesday tacitly conceded the option of doing so or otherwise to the government.
The Senate had met with stakeholders including the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirka, the Minister of Works, Raji Babatunde Fashola,
Representatives of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and that of the Nigerian Police on the plan to shut down the airport and a possible alternative to the proposed government’s action.
Senators after senators opposed the plan to shut down the airport for a period of six weeks, raising the cost implication, security matters and economic issues, while expressing preference for construction of a new runway for Abuja airport as a long term solution.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary while reading the outcome of the meeting with stakeholders said the Senate preferred a segmented repair of the damaged runway and that the Ministry of Aviation, after taking the views of stakeholders, should decide on the possible option as way out.
It was obvious that the position by the Deputy Senate President did not go down well with many senators who chorused ‘no’ on his conclusion.
Dino Melaye, Kogi West who sought to give a true picture of what transpired during the meeting with stakeholders insisted that majority of senators aligned with the position of the Nigerian Society of Engineers that the airport runway could be repaired without necessarily shutting down the entire airport.
Earlier, the representatives of the Society of Engineers, Pontius Anyichukwu, told the Senate that it is indeed possible to have the damaged runway repaired without shutting down the entire airport with diversion of air traffic to Kaduna.
He told the Senate that managerial deficiency has been the root of the decision by the Ministry of Aviation to arrive at the decision to shut down the airport just for the repair of the runway alone.
He said the process of repair of the runway could be segmented in which case some days, most especially weekends and night time, could be set aside for the repair work on the runway, while the airport would still be put to use.
Another alternative suggested by Anyickukwu was that smaller aircrafts should be allowed to land at the airport within the period of repair work, while the bigger ones could be diverted to nearby airport, including the preferred Kaduna Airport.
He told the Senate also that there are sufficient engineers in Nigeria, who according to him, are competent, knowledgeable and experienced enough to effectively handle the repair work at the Airport at lesser cost, while the shutting down of the airport would not be necessary after all.
The position taken by the representatives of the Nigerian engineers had excited many Senators who at different times commended him for being factual and forthright.
However, both Fasola and Sirika opposed the position by the Nigerian Society of Engineers as they insisted that there is no alternative for facilitating the repair of the damaged runway at the Abuja airport than an outright closure.
The two ministers told the Senate that security of air travelers was major in the consideration by the government to shut down the airport completely for the runway repair, insisting that adequate preparations had been made to make the Kaduna alternative conducive for use.
The Aviation Minister said those who felt that the runway could still be managed for a considerable period of time for a new runway to be constructed really missed the fact, disclosing that the runway in Abuja had caused damages to one local and international aircrafts which landing gears, he said, got damaged within the past one week.
He said to construct a new runway would take not less than 24 months according to estimation, whereas such could only be possible by special concession.
He reiterated that already the Federal Government had voted the sum of N1.3 billion for logistics, including security and transportation, on the use of Kaduna airport as an alternative, while the sum of N1.085 billion had been earmarked for upgrading the standard of the Kaduna airport.
The representative of the Nigerian Police had told the Senate that the Police would offer adequate security for travellers to and from Kaduna State and that the Police had resolved to deploy three helicopters to aid the security situation during the period Kaduna airport would be in use.
He said the Police also has a plan to deploy not less than 500 tactical team of officers to be on patrol along the Kaduna-Abuja highway all through the period Abuja airport would not operate.
The Managing Director of Julius Berger, Engr. Wolfgang Goetsch, echoed the preparedness of the construction company to effect repairs on the runway within the stipulated time, just as he assured Senators that his construction company was not desperate in handling the job as alleged.
He, however, hinted that the repair being proposed on the runway could only be effectively carried out subject to full commitment of obligations to all stakeholders.
He said the repair work would have a minimum of 10 years life span, just as he hinted that even the asphalt and other materials to be used would be imported from Europe.
Senator Magnus Abe who was one of the senators opposed to the shutting down of the runway alerted the Senate about the security implication of such a decision, alluding to the unsavoury experiences which air travellers had in Rivers State when the Port Harcourt Airport was shut down for repairs for a considerable period of time.
He said within a period the shutdown of the airport was unduly extended, cases of accidents, kidnappings, armed robbery, rape and untimely deaths were recorded as the authorities reverted to Imo airport as an alternative.
Senator Barnabas Gemade who also opposed the closue fingered Julius Berger as the brain behind the insistence of the Minister of Aviation on having the airport shut down.
He said it was high time Nigeria learnt not to take dictation from foreigners on its domestic affairs, just as he made case for ability of local engineers to carry out repair work on the Abuja airport runway, without shutting down the airport.
Senator Dino Melaye spoke the minds of his colleagues when he urged the government to be wary of the antics of Julius Berger on handling of sensitive projects in Nigeria.
He reminded his colleagues of how the German Company had quoted the sum of N100 billion for construction of the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, under the government of late General Sani Abacha, whereas the Complex was eventually constructed with a paltry sum of N5 billion by a different company